This Week – Becoming Desert Folks

So I have been appreciating and noting the rugged individualism of desert folks since we arrived…

I think the openness of the vast desert landscape must have something to do with the openness towards one another here.


Generally speaking, it seems that no one really trips out on anyone else… there is a straightforward acceptance of what might be considered out-of-the-norm in other places.

It’s alright here.


Usually desert folks- if they pay any mind at all- will offer explanations of why that person might be reacting or living the way they are without judgement- and then go about their business.

Desert folks give a wide berth. They want to do what they want to do- and they want you to be able to do what you want to do. (As long as it’s not downright evil.)

I think that’s why when people visit the desert they feel the freedom to let it all hang out and break out the weird hats and colorful, fuzzy socks.


There is no rush here. In line at the grocery store it took me months to slow down enough to not feel irritated at the clerk catching up with the person in front of me- even after all the food had been beeped through- just chatting it up. Deep breath. Relax. It’s just a couple of extra minutes.

Now I find myself joining in- last time about which campgrounds are the best in the park- right along with the clerk and the visitors with their bags of ice and extra beer…


Desert folks know a lot. A LOT. About a lot of things. Very DIY- and if they don’t know how to-or where to find it- they know someone who does. And they’re willing to share… knowledge and resources and their own time and sweat if necessary.

Nothing seems to shock desert folks- they take it all in stride. They readjust. They pop a can of beer and discuss an alternative way of going about it.


Everyone appreciates the sky. The clouds. A beautiful sunset. Everyone loves the rain. And the desert creatures. And the stars at night.

Everyone has a wild coyote or rattlesnake tale to share. Usually several.


There is much more I could write. And I will.

I love desert folks. I am proud to be among these people. We are slowly transforming into desert folks of our own right I do believe…

– Tania

This Week – Hot? You Bet!


So. It’s been hot.

You realize there is a big difference between part-timers and full-timers when it comes to summertime in the desert.

8-22-2015-TempPeople disappear.

Little shops and restaurants you frequent close early or aren’t open at all.

Some slip off to their other residence in another city, to avoid the heat and bleakness of the full-blown summer months. Some take off in their RV’s.

Then there are those of us who live here all year round. We experience the seasons as they play out- all the subtle nuances of shifting flora and fauna and insects that fluctuate with the temperatures- and experience dust storms and electrical storms and monsoons and power outages and meteor showers…

The heat is sometimes so ridiculously insane it makes you break into uncontrollable laughter. Usually this happens when venturing down the hill (aka Palm Springs, Palm Desert, etc.) where places like Target and Trader Joes live.

8-22-2015-Hot-JTAt 116 your skin actually feels like it’s frying on your body. You tolerate it, and try and pretend like it’s normal while you load your cooler packed with ice and long-awaited TJ’s items- to transport it 50 miles back to the hi-desert where it’s only semi-crazy to exist!

Relief at 100 degrees. No Problem. You feel grateful for the elevation.

When it gets below 80 and the sun goes down you feel like you almost need to grab a sweatshirt- chilly!

In the cool of the evening it’s time to give the dogs a good long walk. The light is diffused and the mesas are glowing in the distance- muted pinks and yellows and light blues settle on the horizon.

Looks like an old colorized western.


Dragonflies and bats flitter and dive through the air. As we are walking we hit cool patches of slightly damp air from particular groups of plants and we breathe deep and appreciate the moment.

We notice new buds on the catclaws that weren’t there yesterday, and find a couple cool rocks to add to the collection- and pause listen to a yipping coyote not too far off…

When we get back from our dog walk we will crack open a beer and celebrate this most happy hour of the day- when the sun goes down in the hi-desert summertime.

– Tania

Latest Photo – 7.6.2015


What an adventure livin’ full-time in the desert is. I mean I really thought summer in the desert meant endless days of hot and dry before we moved here. I had no idea about all the thunderstorms! …and gorgeous frackin’ clouds that blow my mind on an almost daily basis! Diggin’ it. Balances out the rattlesnakes and wildfire!!!

– photo by Tania

This Week – Wildfire-O-Rama Part Two

Continued from our last post Wildfires-O-Rama

Wednesday – June 24th

It had been days of the Lake Fire getting bigger with tiny increments of increased containment. We watched the fire information map as a finger kept growing in this direction, but nothing dramatic.

Then, in the late afternoon, a whole new plume of smoke that seemed closer than the fire had been thus far appeared.

No update on Inciweb. I called the fire info line and they couldn’t provide any update because they hadn’t heard word yet. The lady did say something about how it’s common for wildfires to jump- sometimes several miles.

That put worry and fear in my heart all over again… and Jon’s- who up until now had been very calm and constantly reassuring me and putting my fears to rest.

The new plume was fierce looking.


It exhausted us. Day after day of monitoring the fire’s progress was weary-making. By evening we wanted to tune out. Time for jumping off into space and watching a couple episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

Then- late that night- this. Here’s my FB post: (I never capitalize on FB)…

short version: 11:45 p.m. voluntary evacuations.
2:00 a.m: decide to stay until evacuations become mandatory.
(longer version below…)

i am writing this knowing i cannot post it now (2:00 a.m.) because our internet is not working.
flashback to 11:45 p.m.- we have just finished 3 episodes of battlestar galactica and are about to go to bed and i notice 2 of our closest neighbors have tried to call on our cell phones but i can’t access the messages they’ve left because we get no reception- and our home phone isn’t working because it works off our internet which isn’t working!
…just then we see someone rolling up our driveway- it is one of our neighbors who tried calling to tell us there are mandatory evacuations at rimrock and voluntary evacuations for us- and they are choosing to leave.
unexpected. we are so thankful for him coming over here in person when he couldn’t get ahold of us via phone.
we finally relented (we’d been in denial this whole time about the go bag thing) and started gathering our most precious and necessary of items into a pile by the door- and loaded some into the car. what a surreal moment when you realize you might really have to leave your little home.
we decided to stay for now- until it becomes no longer voluntary.
…going to try and get some sleep now.


Woke up and our internet was working again- I put up my FB post from the night before and we checked Inciweb.

Sure enough- the fire had grown from 18,875 to 23,199 acres and went from 38% contained back down to 21%. Mandatory evacuations in Burns Canyon and Rimrock. Voluntary evacuations for Pioneertown.

I called in to work that I was taking the day off. I felt very distrustful of the fire. Every time I called the fire info line I heard the same thing.

“Be ready.”

We HAD to run into town for a doctor appointment for Jon and I had one thing at work I had to do.

It felt weird and anxious-making to leave. I texted my closest neighbor to please let us know if anything shifted dramatically- as we had to leave for a couple of hours and our pups would be here alone.

That neighbor told me that we should have an evacuation plan- a place we were prepared to go to if we had to. He made a few suggestions. I texted a couple friends of ours who lived on the mesa and they said in so many words- “c’mon over if you need to- no problem.”

As we pulled onto the gulch to leave a sheriff deputy was driving slowly by. We asked him if we were getting evacuated and he said no, they were checking for looters. Oh. Good to know.

We drove into town on the 247 (leaving the smoke and intensity behind us) and back home via Pioneertown Road. We had to pass through a police barricade and prove where we lived to get through.

There were fire trucks lined up by Pappy and Harriet’s and a firefighter there to answer questions. We told him where we lived (there were a couple other Gamma Gulchians there too) and asked if we were in any danger because of this new plume that developed yesterday. He told us not really- unless the wind shifted dramatically.


Well, the wind shifted dramatically.

Around 1:00 a fire vehicle headed up our driveway and 3 firefighters informed us that we were under mandatory evacuation, and that the fire was “really close now- just over the ridge” and that “everyone else was leaving.”

They couldn’t force us to leave, but if we didn’t, we’d have to sign a statement so they weren’t liable for us, and provide a contact person and number for someone out of the immediate area.

So it finally really had come down to this moment.

“We’re leaving,” we told them.

They pulled away and we REALLY started packing. The night before we’d barely just begun. One of my coworkers had offered to blast up here in a moments notice and load art and photos and irreplaceable stuff in his truck and store it for us. Knowing that relieved me- but there wasn’t enough time when it came down to it.

I texted our closest neighbor, “are you leaving?”


Such a strange thing to look around your house and think “what do I want with me if I come back and none of this is here?”

Evacuation begins- we were probably at it, working fast and trying to remain calm and clear-thinking at the same time, for about 45 minutes. Gathering and loading.

Our pups looked confused.

A second vehicle pulled up our driveway- this time it’s the police.


“You’re leaving?” he asked, more as a statement than a question.

“Yes. Almost.”

“Good,” he said.

We did one last walk-around and said a little prayer asking protection of our little cabin and the whole gulch and left.

Goodbye for now little cabin.

We got stuck in an evacuee jam at the head of gulch- trucks pulling horse trailers. So many horse trailers. Even the sheriff deputies were helping evacuate the horses.


We drove to our friend’s Artemis and James’ house. They were welcoming and understanding and fabulous. We were spun out. Our pups were excited to be on an adventure.


Artemis and James are musicians. They were preparing for a tribute for a local musician who had recently passed. They went to Palm Springs for the night, and we got the place to ourselves.


We were exhausted. We were also so thankful for the kindness extended to us.


Woke up and checked Inciweb. Containment down to 19%. Evacuations still stand. It smelled smokier on the mesa that day.

I didn’t want to get in the way of our friends when they came back that day- as their guest room is also their recording studio- (even though they had graciously extended the invitation) so I called a friend of our nearest neighbor to ask if she still might have a cabin open.

She immediately and generously offered us a cabin (free of charge) and said “anything to help.”

We were (and are) overwhelmed at the fabulousness of hi-desert folk. Just straight out blown-away.

So evacuee night two was spent at the artist Diane Best’s Rattler Ranch’s Casita de la Señorita. We felt so blessed to be there.



We came to find out, here was Diane, helping us out, when she herself had a house in Burns Canyon seriously threatened by the wildfire.


Good things. The firefighters made good progress last night. The clouds yesterday helped bring a few raindrops and higher humidity.

Inciweb stated that the fire was 40% contained- and reports from our fellow Gamma Gulch neighbors said that the air was clear and with only a slight smoke smell detected.

The barricades on the gulch had been removed! The evacuation was lifted! It only remained in place for Burns Canyon.

We could go back home!!! We talked with Diane and she extended the invitation for another night- but we wanted to lay our eyes on our little cabin so badly we declined. There was no word on her house yet.

(I forgot to mention that this whole time since the evacuation our closest neighbor had set-up a group message of some of us Gamma Gulchians to keep connected and communication open- so awesome!)

So we packed it all up- and headed back to home sweet home.

We were so happy and it all looked a hundred times more beautiful than when we left the gulch.


Everything was just as we left it at our cabin.

I did a “home sweet home” FB post and Jon commented with this-

“I’m so amazed at the wonderful, goodhearted people we’ve come to know since moving here. Thank you Artemis and James, Kelly Ray, Scott and Kelly, Diane Best and the many other people who helped us through this ordeal.

After all this, I love living here even more!!!”

I couldn’t agree more.

I will have to do a “what we learned being evacuees” post- because WOW did we learn a lot! Too much to write now, so more on that later.


So good to wake up at home. So good not to smell smoke.

30,716 acres burned. 50% contained.

Diane posted a RIP post about her house this afternoon. Our hearts ache for her. Not everyone got out of this unscathed.


It’s not over ’til it’s over. May it be 100% contained sooner than later.

– Tania

Bonus Video

Getting Lost in the Arid Expanse with Diane Best – A short documentary from KCET.

This Week – Wildfire-O-Rama


The night before Jon’s birthday (Wednesday June 17th) is when I first smelled smoke. It’s strange to smell smoke when you’re surrounded by wilderness.

I stepped out onto the deck and looked up and down the gulch. I told Jon- “someone’s got a mighty big bbq going on…” and figured the wind must be blowing just right to carry the smell so far.

Awhile later I stepped back out on the deck. Smoke was faintly visible now- coming from the direction of the Black Mountain Big Bear area. I asked Jon to come check it out.

“That’s more than a bbq,” he surmised.

I googled “wildfire Big Bear” and discovered that there was a small 20 acre wildfire in the Barton Flats area and they’d evacuated a few camp kids.

Okay. At least it made sense now. We both stood out on the deck and smelled what a wildfire smelled like.

Jon’s birthday morning we woke to an eerie orange dawn raining ashes and smoke-filled air.

Whoa. Unexpected. We couldn’t even see Black Mountain.

All of a sudden a million thoughts and questions ran through my brain at once.

We don’t get tv or radio reception here. How do you stay connected to what’s going on? What site on the internet has the most up-to-date information? Are we in danger? How would we find out if we were? Does someone fly over your cabin with a loudspeaker?

Online investigations revealed InciWeb was probably our best resource for the latest updates.

We found out the “Lake Fire” (it had a name!) had grown overnight to 1000 acres and was 5% contained. Our closest neighbor put me at ease with a text that said he’d “seen this before and the smoke would clear when the percentage of containment went up.”

Not only was it smoky, it was 100 degrees. We realized that we could not completely seal out the smoke from our little cabin because we had to keep the swamp cooler running, which required cracking the windows to allow for the cool air to draw through our cabin.

This wildfire business was a whole new aspect to hi-desert living we hadn’t even contemplated until now.

Jon pointed out how the yellow wildfire-tinted light made shadows grey.

Around mid-afternoon (and Jon asking the wind to please clear the gulch) the smoke started to clear. We saw our first glimpse of blue. Slowly as the breeze picked up the gulch began to clear. Clear never looked so good.

I dashed out to buy some birthday beer at Hero Market. (Haha! Dash- that’s actually a twenty mile round trip! Here that seems close.)


Leaving the gulch gave me a different perspective. All the smoke that had cleared seemed to be lurking behind the mesas on Pipes Canyon, and descending upon the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance. It felt okay- if not a little ominous- to be where we were at.


I got a wildfire-tinted photo of sunset on the gulch as I was coming back home.


We thought to ourselves – okay- well- that was that. It must be over now- cool. We had birthday celebrating to attend to.

Sometime before bed we peeked outside- stars. All clear.

We woke up Friday into a strange muted yellow glow. I didn’t even want to look. I could smell smoke. Jon opened the sliding glass door. It was back. The gulch was filled with heavy smoke.

All the questions began again. Jon checked the InciWeb. The wildfire had multiplied tenfold. 10,000 acres. It said there was a contingency group formed in Pioneertown- but no evacuations were being ordered.

Evacuations?! The very word caused a wave of panic to roll over me.

I texted a friend in Pioneertown proper to ask how it was there. She texted back that live embers were falling. I asked her if she thought they would be evacuated. She texted me back- “they never evacuate us. We leave when we see flames.”

This didn’t settle with me well. Are we so far “out there” in the wilds of the desert that they won’t even bother to tell us to go?!

I needed firsthand information. I went to the US Forest Service Fire Information for San Bernardino National Forest website and called the fire information hotline.

I expected pre-recorded information. A human being answered, and said he was there to answer any questions I may have. I told him where we lived, and asked if we were in any danger because we were socked in with heavy smoke and had no tv or radio reception. He said that the fire was moving east towards Morongo Valley and there was no immediate danger, but to be ready just in case “because anything can happen. Have a go-bag ready.”

I asked him what was the best site for up-to-date info and he confirmed our InciWeb. He informed me that they have briefings at 6 am and 6 pm which is when the big updates occur, but small updates are made throughout the day.

I asked him how would we know if we had to evacuate? He told me they would do a “reverse 911” call to let us know. Also sheriffs in the local area would go door-to-door to specific areas if needed.

I took a deep breath and thanked him for all of his information.

I hung up and relayed all the information to Jon and then asked him, “what would we take with us if we had to go?”

Neither of us had given that even a moment of thought before. We determined we’d take our pups (of course!!!) and our computers and our tent (in case we had to pitch it in someone’s backyard ) and our box of memorabilia from our early days of falling in love and… some clothes and…

Wow. Overwhelming thought. What about the millions of photos (from film) and journals and paintings and…?! Perish the thought of having to go. Nope. Can’t deal with that.

Again- the wind cleared the gulch mid-afternoon. Pure relief again. Clear skies = feelings of “it’s going to be okay.”

I had to run into town for groceries. I drove through Pioneertown proper on the way out. There were the contingency firefighters posted at the edge of town. I counted at least 7 fire trucks and a water tanker.

Those firefighters have to stand around in 100 degrees in their yellow fire suits. Dang. Protecting… just in case. Thank God for you all. Seriously.

Going to town was a shmazy ugly smoke-soaked experience. In the grocery store everything felt normal. Then back out into the schmaze.

Another wildfire-tinted sunset.

In the evening we decided to go into space and leave this smoky place with multiple episodes of Battlestar Galactica.


Next day- the smoke is back again. I feel annoyed. I’m totally over it. Done. Wildfire- be contained already! Be gone. Sick of 100 degrees and smoky air combo.

We want to hike! We want to run around and breathe clear air! We want blue skies! For everyone!!!

InciWeb says it went up to 13,000 acres and is up to 10% contained.

Another day. But at least no fear or worry. It’s just old.

Today- woke up into almost blue skies (we were beside ourselves with joy!) which then shifted into smoky haze again. Less smoke though.

InciWeb. Over 16,000 acres. 15% contained.

Alright. This WILL end. And we will rejoice under fresh clear hi-desert skies and hike and run with our pups and appreciate every second of it more than we ever have before!!!

…and may wildfires come no closer than the Lake Fire. Ever. Amen.

– Tania

Meanwhile, Jon Releases an album called “Songs You Already Love”…

The Near Heaven Orchestra re-makes classic songs with  Automatic Pete, the text-to-speech reader voice, who brings a straight-forward, nearly deadpan reading of the lyrics, allowing the listener to focus on the words in a way they may have never heard them before…

Just thought you might want to check it out…



Latest Photo – 5.30.2013


This is Goku. She’s a Sailfin Dragon residing at Fins and Fangs. She is truly one of the most remarkable creatures we have laid our eyes upon!

Jon read up about her when we got home- she’s a a Hydrosaurus and can live up to 25 years- and a female like Goku can grow up to 3 feet long. They love to swim and can stay submerged for over an hour.

So cool!

– Tania


This Week – “The Swampy” Lowdown

This was the first week we turned on what we affectionately call “the swampy”- (aka swamp cooler or evaporative cooler.) It was the first week over 90 degrees and once it got above 85 inside we were like- “it’s swampy time!”


Swamp coolers confused me before we moved to the hi-desert since I’d had no experience with them before. I investigated them and read comparisons on them vs. air conditioners, talked to desert people about them, got the scientific breakdown of how they work, etc.

They are not pretty machines. In fact, they are downright ugly- but swamp coolers/evaporative coolers are rad when you live in the desert!


They pretty much keep the temperatures in the mid to lowish 70’s and take the usual zero degree humidity and bring it up in the 30% range- and they are a zillion times cheaper than running an a/c.

So here is the explanation of how they work via Wikipedia because they sure can explain it better than me.

“Direct evaporative cooling is used to lower the temperature and increase the humidity of air by using latent heat of evaporation, changing liquid water to water vapor.

In this process, the energy in the air does not change. Warm dry air is changed to cool moist air. The heat of the outside air is used to evaporate water.

The RH increases to 70 to 90% which reduces the cooling effect of human perspiration.

The moist air has to be continually released to outside or else the air becomes saturated and evaporation stops.

The pre-cooled air passes through a water-soaked pad and picks up humidity as it cools.


The water-soaked pad is made of Excelsior, or wood wool, known primarily as excelsior in North America, is a product made of wood slivers cut from logs.”

So that’s that! Unfortunately they only work in dry climates- because they will make the air way too humid if you already have humidity in the air where you live.

– Tania

Buttons At Coyote Corner!


So guess what? As of last weekend our buttons are now in Coyote Corner! We are honored- ’cause we think this shop is one of the coolest shops in JT!!!

I’m sure many of you have popped in- either on the way into the park or on your way out. If you haven’t- check it out next time!!!


Above: This was all that was left when Jon brought their second order of 50 more…