Joshua Tree National Park, Joshua Tree, CA

20170126_144754Louise Speaks:  On a recent trip to California we once again went by the turn off to the Joshua Tree National Park.  We knew this was in Patricia’s book, “1000 Places To See Before You Die” but we had never stopped.  We were on our way to take a cruise and decided this was the time we would visit the National Park.  So on the way back from our cruise, we took the turn off and visited the park.  The Joshua Tree National Park is actually listed under Death Valley in Patricia’s book, but for us it is much closer to see it from the Arizona / California side than to go up to Nevada.

100_2500The park is right off the I-10 Fwy outside of Palm Springs, CA.   Declared a U.S. National Park  in 1994,  it had previously been a National Monument  since 1936.  It is named for the Joshua trees  native to the park.  It covers a land area of 790,636 acres, an area slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island.   A large part of the park, some 429,690 acres , is a designated wilderness area.  Straddling two counties,  the park includes parts of two deserts,  whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert  and lower Colorado Desert.

Joshua trees dominate the open spaces of the park, but in among the rock outcroppings are other forms of vegetation.  The higher and cooler Mojave Desert  is the special habitat of  the Joshua tree for which the park is named.  It occurs in patterns from dense forests to distantly spaced specimens.  In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts.  Below 3,000 feet, 100_2506the Colorado Desert  encompasses the eastern part of the park and features habitats of bushes and cactus.  There are areas of such cactus density they appear as natural gardens.  The lower Coachella Valley is on the southeastern side of the Park with sandy soil desert dunes.  The only palm native to California, the California Fan Palm, occurs naturally in five oases  in the park, rare areas where water occurs naturally year round and all forms of wildlife are visible.



101_0138The rock formations  of Joshua Tree National Park were formed more than 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface  with roughly rectangular joints.  Ground water  then filtered through the joints to erode  away the corners and edges to create rounded stones, and flash foods  washed away covering ground to create piles of boulders.  Like rock formations in the Arches in Utah, names were given to many of these rock formations.  Skull Rock is a prime example.

We drove completely through the National Park.  We entered through the west in Yucca Valley and came out to the east at Chiracco Summit.  We stopped many times to take photos and to see the gardens and rock formations.  When driving through, take time to see the different formations and enjoy the beauty of these unusual trees.  These trees are only seen here in the National Park and in the Deserts of Israel.  Joshua trees are seen through many of the area deserts, but going through the national park just makes you realize how many of these trees there actually are.


At the beginning of this post, I mentioned we were on our way to the dock to go on a short cruise.  We left early so as not to miss the boat so we do have some extra time today, Jan. 21, 2017.  We decided to visit a resort that is in Patricia’s book and was not to far off the Fwy, so we made a detour to visit the resort.  This a resort is in the Yucca Valley .  The resort is actually listed under the Death Valley Post but it is much closer to see from the highway between Arizona and California than from Death Valley.  The Two Bunch Palm Resort is a private resort.  We had to pull strings just to get through the gates.  The resort is in Desert Hot Springs, CA and is  just outside of Palm Springs.


100_9929We had to explain to the guard at the gate why we were there and all about Patricia’s book.  He connected us to the main lobby and we told our story again.  We were told we could go and speak to the gals in the lobby.  When we asked if we could tour some of the grounds or the facilities  we were told no, they have a privacy law with their guests.  This resort is very inclusive to the rich and famous although it is very affordable.  The gal at the desk however, did tell us about the history of the resort and how it was used as a hideout for villains like Al Capone.  There is a story behind how it got it’s name Two Bunch Palm, and there are two bunches of palm trees at the entrance, but I forgot the story.   I asked if this history was written up somewhere and she said no, it was just information she had accumulated over the years…I’m going to have to start taking notes when I go to these places.  I have looked over the internet to try to find some of these things she told us about and I can’t find a thing.  So if you stop by, you will have to find this young lady and get the story yourself.

As stated in the Death Valley Post, I did enjoy spending a day viewing the sites.  Equally as impressive was the Joshua Tree National Park.  I wold highly recommend visiting both these spots should you ever have the chance.  As for Two Bunch Resort, I would not rate this high on my list.  The grounds were very plain, and although I appreciate the privacy clause, they could have showed us some of the grounds to give us a better impression of the resort.



Ensenada, Ensenada, Mexico

101_0068Louise Speaks:   Another stop on our Baja cruise is Ensenada Mexico.  Now again, since101_0076 I have been on this cruise many times before, and I lived just outside of San Diego, I have experienced many times before, but Thelma has never been here.   Ensenada  is a coastal city,  the third largest city in Baja California.  Ensenada is just 78 miles south of San Diego on the Baja Peninsula.  It is locally referred to as La Cenicienta del Pacífico, “The Cinderella of the Pacific.”  And if you visit the Ensenada coastline you’d know why.  The only thing I could compare it to would be some of the richest coastlines in northern California like Big Sur or Monterrey.  I spoke at great lengths with our tour guide about  coastal beach living.  I was told that when you hear of people spending at least a million dollars for a small beach house in California, you can get a mini mansion in Ensenada for about $25,000.  Makes one think about moving to Mexico.  In fact many people working in San Diego, make that 78 mile trip everyday so they can live on the beautiful coast of Ensenada while earning the American dollar in California.


centro_cultural_20415The cruise lines are pretty good about having you in port long enough that you can take enough excursions to really get a feel for the port.  During the morning we were given a tour of the Riveria Culture Center, formerly the Hotel Playa Ensenada.  The Hotel is now  used as a culture center and a popular venue for major events.   The main objectives of this center are to preserve the cultural, historical, artistic, archaeological and architectural heritage of the state.  The city wants to  encourage the citizens to promote,  foster and spread their cultural values and strengthen the fine arts.  They are hoping to develop social communication as well as every activity that favors the spiritual and intellectual harmony among the citizens.  I took my grand daughter here many years ago for a folk lore celebration where folk dancers in their native costumes entertained us while we had an authentic Mexican lunch.100_2462

20170125_101154Its history dates back to 1930, when it opened under the name, Hotel Playa Ensenada; very popular for its lavish décor and casino. Our guide was very informative of the decor especially  the chandeleirs.  The rooms and buildings that made up this beautiful recreational complex, of Californian and Neo-Mudéjar style, are now two event venues: a theatre and a bar.  Today the lavish bar offered Margarita tasting as part of the tour, and they were very tasty Margarita’s .  The Margarita  is claimed to have been invented in several different places and at several different times.  However, Ensenada takes  claim  that it was invented right here at the Hotel Riviera del Pacífico for Marjorie King Plant at the time when she was the joint owner.  Margarita is a Spanish version of the name Marjorie.  Our guide had a very interesting explanation of this find, but you’re going to have to go to Ensenada yourself to hear the story.

In the patio outside the bar, local venders were selling their goods.  Many of them were making their goods right in front of us.  To see them crocheting, or doing basket weaving, or painting plates, you could see how talented these people are.  The prices were so reasonable, you just wanted to tell them to charge more.  No two items were the same, and the colors were brilliant.  What a fun stop and did I mention how good the Margarita’s were?


fish-ringFrom the cultural center we took a Coastline tour along the Gold Coast, that pretty much showed us all Ensenada has to offer.  One of our stops was the Fishing Farms, where they use  breeding rings for the blue fin tuna.  We were high up on a cliff, so we could easily see the fish rings below.  The practice of catching blue fin tuna and hauling them inshore to be fattened in a pen was developed during the 90’s.  Turns out the blue fin tuna has been fished for in Ensenada  for many, many years. Before, instead of taking the fish and bringing it to the farm and feeding it, they used to catch the tuna, load them on the boat, and take the fish to the cannery.  But since 1997, they tow the live fish in the net in a very smooth way, bring them close to the shoreline, and then keep them there for a month, or up to four or five months. During that time, they feed the fish sardines.  They don’t use any artificial feed.  They feed the tuna sardines that are caught in local waters close by the shoreline.  They actually use fresh sardines,  They catch the sardines today and give them to the tuna tomorrow…now that’s pretty fresh.  You are able to see the fish rings from the coastal area, and there are hundreds of them.  Most of the tunas are headed to Japan, where they will become sushi.  When an order comes in from Japan, the divers take the fish, alive,  from the pen one by one.  They then sacrifice the tuna on the boat one by one using a Japanese technique that guarantees that the flesh is not damaged.  They then bring the tuna from the fish farms to the port  in Ensenada.  From the port they go to the plant.  At the plant, they clean the tuna, pack the tuna, and put the filleted tuna in a box.  From the plant, the boxes are  trucked to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles are shipped to Japan by air.  In Japan, the tuna is auctioned on the Japanese market.  From the time you kill the fish until the time it is in the auction market in Japan and to the consumer, is only about 72 hours.


101_0059While on our morning tour we stopped for a quaint lunch at La Fonda’s.  A cute grass hut restaurant right of the gold coast of Ensenada.  There were homes on each side of the restaurant because in Mexico, when you have property you can do what you choose with that property.  So this home is now a restaurant and a small motel…but the views were unbelievable.  While waiting for lunch and taking in the view, our tour guide was just a book of knowledge telling us all Ensenada has to offer.  I think he was recruiting for new residents.  Reading the menu was quite fascinating when you think of the money exchange.  We ordered a taco dinner and on the menu it lists a price of 160 Pesos….seems expensive for a taco dinner, but in actuality that is less than $8.00.


100_2490We made it back to the ship, just in time to board the bus for our afternoon excursion to La Bufadora, “The Blow Hole“.   This is probably the most popular attraction in Ensenada.  La Bufadora is about 17 miles south of Ensenada all along the southern coastline of Baja.  Driving to the Blow Hole, you will see many of the agricultural fields and the cardboard homes the workers live in.  It is a chance to see the poorer side of Ensenada in comparison to the richer side we saw this morning as we drove along the Gold Coast.  La Bufadora is a marine geyser  or blowhole located on the Punta Banda Peninsula.  The spout of sea water is the result of air, trapped in a sea cave, exploding upwards.  Air is forced into the cave by wave action and is released when the water recedes.  This interaction not only creates the spout, but a thunderous noise as well. like Boof, hence the name La Bufadora.   The phenomena repeats every minute or so with its volume depending on the strength of the waves.  La Bufadora is one of the largest blowholes in North America, often shooting upwards more than 100 feet  above sea level.  The exhibit hall roof top is approximately 80 feet above sea level and the blowhole frequently sprays above it.  We didn’t see any sprays quite that tall, but it was still pretty tall.


100_2480As you walk to the blow hole you pass 100s of venders selling their goods.  Here you will find anything from leather, to silver, from blankets to clothing.  You will also find nuts, and dried fruit, and even margarittas and cuban cigars.  The vendors are shouting back and forth along the streets trying to earn your business.  Our tour guide was pointing out to us where we would get the best deal…and who was selling the real silver etc.  I’m sure she gets a cut for recommending certain venders, but she truly was a sales person.  Thelma bought silver and nuts and there was quite a selection for both.

101_0099At the corner where the bus was parked is a taco stand.  Not just any taco stand but the one everyone was talking about.  When I was here years ago, this taco stand was being run out of a van.  Prior to arriving in Ensenada I told people make sure you get a taco from the van right where the buses park.  That business out of a van, is now a large building, with about 8 workers and a patio outside with about 10 picnic tables.  I knew the tacos were good, but this young gal has really made a business for herself.  So of course we had to help the cause and order two large plates to take back to the bus.  The tacos are just as good as they always were.  I guess next time we come by she’ll be in a two story restaurant with indoor seating.



Although we are only 17 miles from Ensenada it was a good hour drive back to the ship.  Now we are in rush hour traffic for Ensenada but we made it back to the ship in time for sail off.  Today was a fun day.  There are many excursions to choose from, but I was trying to show Thelma as much of Ensenada as possible.   I think Thelma got a good taste of Ensenada, and saw some interesting things along the way.  It had been a few years since I have been on tours in Ensenada because usually I just stay on the ship, but today was fun seeing old stuff and seeing Thelma enjoy the new sites.  Next time we come though, we might just stay on the ship and drink.

Catalina Island, Avalon, CA

100_2377Louise Speaks:  I have been to Catalina many times, and it is still one of my favorite places.  However, Thelma had never been there, so we decided to take a cruise where Catalina was a destination stop.  I’ll give more details of the cruise and how we ended up in Catalina today when I blog about the cruise, but today it’s all about Catalina Island.  Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island, or just Catalina, is a rocky island  off the coast of California.  The island is 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its greatest width. The island is located about 26 miles  south-southwest of Los Angeles, California.  There is actually a song that says how far across from LA the Island is.  Catalina is part of Los Angeles County so even when you go to Catalina Island, you are still in California.

100_2380Catalina’s total population in the 2010 census was 4,096 people, 90 percent of whom live100_2385 in the island’s only incorporated city, Avalon.   The second center of population is the  village of Two Harbors, which is on the other side of the island.  Catalina basically consists of one main street with shops and hotels.  The neighborhoods go a few streets up the hill.  When we took one of our excursions our tour guide told us the reason he lives on Catalina was because of the school district.  He said the school was so small that every parent knew every child and that was important to him.  He also shared how expensive it was to live on Catalina Island, if you could find a place to live.  Most available rentals are used as vacation rentals, but finding a place to live full time is difficult.  Apparently our tour guide had a very small apartment that cost well over $1,000 a month.  We don’t know how small or how much over a thousand, but he made us feel that is was expensive even by California standards.


100_2441Catalina has a history of who owned the island, but that is just history.  Fast forwarding how it came to being we can go back to when the sons of Phineas Banning  bought the island in 1891 from the estate of James Lick.   The Banning brothers fulfilled  dreams of making Avalon a resort community with the construction of numerous tourist facilities.  On November 29, 1915, a fire burned half of Avalon’s buildings, including six hotels and several clubs.  In the face of huge debt related to the fire and the subsequent decline in tourism due to World War I , the Banning brothers were forced to sell the island in shares in 1919.  One of the main investors to purchase shares from the Bannings was chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr.   In 1919, Wrigley bought out nearly every share-holder until he owned controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company.  Wrigley invested millions in needed infrastructure and attractions to the island, including the construction of the  Catalina Casino  which opened on May 29, 1929.  Wrigley also sought to bring publicity to the island through events and spectacles.  Starting in 1921, the Chicago Cubs,  also owned by Wrigley, used the island for the team’s spring training.  The Cubs continued to use the island for spring training until 1951, except during the war years of 1942 to 1945.   On our city tour, we were actually able to go by that original ball field where the cubs played.  Following the death of Wrigley, Jr. in 1932, control of the Santa Catalina Island Company passed down to his son, Phillip K. Wrigley,  who continued his father’s work improving the infrastructure of the island.

100_2386100_2388Close to one million people travel to Catalina Island every year, though the total numbers in any given year varies depending on economic conditions. That has increased over the years, but it was always a tourist attraction.  Actress  Natalie Wood  drowned in the waters near the settlement of Two Harbors under questionable circumstances over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 1981. Wood and her husband, Robert Wagner, were vacationing aboard their motor yacht, Splendour, along with their guest.  In 2011, thirty years after the actress’ death, the case was reopened, partially due to public statements made by the captain of the Splendour.

100_2398In May 2007, Catalina experienced the 2007 Avalon Fire.   Largely due to the assistance of 200 Los Angeles County fire fighters transported by U.S. Marine Corps helicopters and U.S Navy hovercraft, only a few structures were destroyed, yet 4,750 acres of wild land burned.  In May 2011, another wild fire started near the Isthmus Yacht Club on Two Harbors and was fought by 120 firefighters transported by barge from Los Angeles. It was extinguished the next day after burning 117 acres. As we took our city tour we were shown buildings that had been destroyed by the fire and ones that weren’t touch.

101_0033Catalina is still a tourist destination.  You can only get there by boat or helicopter.  Cruise ships stop here but because of the shallow waters, ships dock off shore and we must take a tender to land.  Many tourist attractions are things like the Glass Bottom Boat tour, the reefs and shipwrecks  of the area, and scuba diving and snorkeling are popular in the clear water.  Lover’s Cove, to the east of Avalon, and Descanso Beach, to the west of the Casino, are popular places to dive. The Avalon Underwater Dive Park was the first non-profit underwater park in the United States.  Parasailing and zip lining  are now also offered.  Bus tours are given of the interior of the Island.  We were on Catalina for the day, arriving at 8:00 a.m. and not having to be back at the ship until 4:00 p.m.   With that time line, we were able to book two separate excursions.  As our first tour was to begin, we noticed the 1952 bus pull up.  Never did we think a bus could be so cool.  I had been on this bus with my mother, and it was  an amazing memory.


101_0031Our first excursion was a city tour.  It was one that I thought we would get a chance to see the island and find out the history of Catalina.  Our tour bus was from 1952 and it made us feel like we were definitely back in time.  It’s never really warm in Catalina so the fact that the bus had no air conditioning didn’t bother us one bit.  Our first stop was The Wrigley Memorial and The Botanical Garden.  The bus stopped at the gate and as we walked thru the gardens.  For most people on the bus they were amazed at the desert plants, for us, being from Arizona, we were like…umm there are a bunch of cactus here…looks like our back yard.  The cactus were not in bloom, so those who didn’t know cactus have no idea how beautiful these plants can be when in bloom but we do.  The botanic garden covers 38 acres  near the town of Avalon.  The garden places a special emphasis on California island endemic plants, that is plants that grow naturally.  At any rate, the weather was nice and you have to walk through the garden to get to the Wrigley Memorial.

101_0016The Wrigley Memorial is in honor of William Wrigley Jr.  who bought most of100_2417 Catalina Island in 1919 with proceeds from his chewing gum empire.  When he died on January 26, 1932, at age 70, he was interred near his Catalina home, in a tower in the botanical gardens.   The tower stands 130 feet high and is primarily built with local materials.   With its commanding view of Avalon Bay, the Wrigley Memorial is the centerpiece of the Botanical Garden.  It was built in 1933-34 with the goal of using as much Catalina materials as possible.  Quarried Catalina stones can be seen in the reinforced concrete construction.  The facade having been sandblasted to hide the cement and highlight the native crushed stones. The blue flagstone rock on the ramps and terraces comes from Little Harbor, on Catalina’s “back” side. The red roof tiles and all the colorful handmade glazed tiles used for finishings came from the Catalina Pottery plant, which was in operation from 1927 to 1937.  The marble inside the tower was quarried in Georgia. You must climb many many stairs to get to the 130 foot tower.  Once to the top, the climbing of all these steps is definitely worth it.  Wrigley’s body has since been moved, but his original grave memorial marker still adorns the tower site.

scanned-image-20From here we drove around the town of Avalon on this old 1952 bus.  The streets seemedmt-300x186-ada-01483477550454 so narrow, and with parking a premium, cars park on the street.  So now with the narrow streets and cars on each side, it was a wonder we made it.  Our tour guide took us to the highest point of Avalon.  From here we could see the casino below, our cruise ship and Mt. Alda, the original Wrigley Mansion.  Mt. Alda is in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You die”.  Mt. Alda was named after Wrigley’s wife and sits 350 feet above town.  The view of town is mt-ada-01472690661w3k-300x186mt-ada-014726906612ik-300x186indescribable.  This is the reason Wrigley chose this site to build his home.  Mt. Alda is currently a bed and breakfast but in the past you could actually tour the mansion.  Listed on the National Register of the Historic Places, this classic 1921 inn was once home to the Wrigley family.  Mt Ada offers 6 rooms, each with it’s own bath, many amenities, and breathtaking views. Guests enjoy complimentary breakfast, lunch and evening wine & hors d’oeuvre reception, complimentary butler’s pastry available throughout the day, complimentary golf cart to use during the stay, complimentary private van pick up from the airport, heliport or boat terminal and much more.  This is by far the most spectacular place to stay on the island.  There are ways to get to the Inn without staying here such as participating in one of the afternoon lunches offered.

100_2381The Casino, is probably the most well known and most recognizable building on the 100_9988island.  It is the most visible landmark in Avalon Bay,  when approaching it from the mainland.  The casino was actually never a gambling establishment.  It was more or less used as a gathering spot.  A place for celebrities from the Los Angeles area to come and dance and hear every famous big band from the 30s and 40s.  On May 29, 1929, the new Catalina Casino was completed under the direction of Wrigley at a cost of 2 million dollars.  Its design, is in the Art Deco style.  With a height equal to a 12-story building, it was built to serve as a theatre on the main floor and a ballroom and promenade on the upper level. Movie Stars frequently came by yacht to the Casino to preview their newest cinema productions.  The large building now contains a movie theatre, a ballroom, island art and a  history museum.  It also serves as the island’s civil defense shelter, large enough to accommodate Catalina’s entire year-round population.  Within its walls is stored enough food and water for all Avalon’s residents for two weeks. 

glass-bottomOur last excursion of the day was to take the Glass Bottom Boat tour.  Catalina is full100_2430 of vegetation so that creates a great habitat for fish,  Of course the guide drops food so the fish gather in schools so that we can look through the bottom of the boat to see the different species.  Santa Catalina Island is famous for crystal clear water and glass bottom boats, a perfect combination for fun and discovery.  These large, comfortable vessels bring the undersea world right to you.  During the trip we visited Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve, where colorful fish and marine plants thrive among the kelp forests.

As you can see, this was a full day.  We even had time to have fish and chips at the local lobster trap.  There is usually a fish and chip place on the pier, but this is Tuesday and in February so not prime season.  I just love coming here.  I’ve been here on just a day trip, I’ve been here for weekend getaways, and I’ve been here as a cruise destination stop.  One of my fondest memories is that I took my mom here for the day, and she always said it was her most favorite trip.  If you ever have the chance, you  must experience Catalina Island.  They have catamaran boats that leave from several California ports and it’s about an hour and a half boat ride across the pacific to Catalina…or you can take a cruise that stops here and enjoy the day like we did.