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  • I have a small nest of rocks in my flower bed. They aren’t anything unusual like fossils or geodes; they are just pretty, colorful rocks- kind of hard ostrich-sized Easter eggs.

    I moved them from a stream bed 300+ miles south, way the hell out there on a dirt road to nowhere. Well, apologies to Nevada because a few miles on you would hit Nevada and really be in the middle of nowhere. Part of the appeal is driving across that remote and almost surreal ruggedness to get to where the stream is sandwiched between a tall conglomerate cliff and the Turtle Ranch.

    The Turtle Ranch is what our family calls a nature preserve for the protection of the desert tortoise and one of our favorite spring break destinations. Even though we love the dry joshua slope at the base of the equally dry mountains, the sudden appearance of green cottonwoods along the stream never completely ceases to feel like a surprise. The ground beneath the trees is a tangle of the sticks and limbs they are constantly shedding and the debris left from spring floods. The stream, though very small and shallow most of the time, has washed a delightful variety of boulders and pebbles down from who knows where. Worn smooth by their travels, they come in many colors - black, red, yellow, green, purple, orange. There is enough water to sustain a small population of tiny musical frogs and very small fish. We have never come across a tortoise, but we are grateful that some land has been set aside for their habitat.
  • For years we hauled a picnic, kids, and more friends of kids than we have kids over the washboards to spend the afternoon. We would set up just inside the gate on a rectangle of grass, sharing the shade with the chickens and baby ducks that wandered by. One year the caretaker used a front end loader to haul a table up into the orchard for us because he was irrigating the grass. We walked upstream along the two-track road, beyond the stock pond to visit Hannah and children. Actually, it is only the small headstone for a woman, undoubtedly a polygamous wife, charged with keeping the desert at bay on this small homestead in the 1860’s(?) It draws up both sadness for this isolated mother of eight and admiration for the strength of her pioneer determination.

    Just once, by a good fortune of timing and conditions, we dropped into a small draw almost blanketed in bright yellow wildflowers. The joshua trees and cholla were healthy, blushing green. Red paint brush and smaller, blue and white ground-hugging flowers tried to hide among the rocks and cactus.

    Regrettably, the last few years have seen changes. An invasive parasite took up residence in the tamarisk bushes, also an invasive species but old enough to have established squatters rights. Several years of drought have bleached the landscape of much of its subtle color, and wildfires have swept down from the mountains leaving the arms of the giant joshuas stunted and black. Unfortunately, the wildflower draw was one of those scorched areas. The gate to the ranch is locked, now access given only to university or church groups. We can still wander the stream bed calling to each other “Wow, look at this one”, but we have missed dropping in on Hannah.
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