We had some free time on our recent trip to Los Angeles to visit family and we decided to reacquaint ourselves with the art and gardens of the Huntington. In 1913 Henry Huntington purchased a property of more than 500 acres that was then known as the “San Marino Ranch”, and went on to purchase other large tracts of land in the Pasadena and Los Angeles areas of Los Angeles County for urban and suburban development. The Huntington was founded in 1919 by Henry Huntington, a businessman who built a financial empire that included railroad companies, utilities, and real estate holdings in Southern California. Huntington was also a man of vision with a special interest in books, art, and gardens. During his lifetime, he amassed the core of one of the best research libraries in the world, established a lovely art collection, and created an array of botanical gardens with plants from a geographic range spanning the globe. These three distinct facets of The Huntington are linked by a commitment to research, education, and beauty. For qualified scholars, The Huntington is one of the largest and most complete research libraries in the United States in its fields of specialization. The Botanical Gardens are an ever-changing exhibition of color and a constant delight. Covering 120 acres, more than a dozen specialized gardens are arranged within a park-like landscape of rolling lawns. While the art collection is known for the Gainsborough “Blue Boy” there are many hidden gems in the collection.
The Ahwahnee (Majestic Yosemite) Hotel is a grand hotel in Yosemite National Park, California, on the floor of Yosemite Valley, constructed from steel, stone, concrete, wood and glass, which opened in 1927. It is a premiere example of National Park Service rustic architecture, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The Ahwahnee was renamed the Majestic Yosemite Hotel on March 1, 2016, due to a legal dispute between the US Government, which owns the property, and the outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, which claims rights to the trademarked name. In the early 1900´s the first director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, decided that Yosemite needed a first class hotel. While Mather no doubt enjoyed the finer things in life, and was a part of the income and status group that would frequent first class hotels, his motives weren´t entirely aimed at building the kind of hotel he and his friends would enjoy. As head of the fledgling Park Service, and a master politician he understood that the wealthy and powerful held the keys to obtaining the priority and funding that his new department would need to further it´s goals of both protecting the parks and making them accessible to the public.
El Capitan to the left, Bridaveil Fall to the right, and the rest of Yosemite Valley behind Tunnel View provides one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background. This viewpoint is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel along the Wawona Road (Highway 41). This is often the first waterfall visitors see when entering Yosemite Valley. In spring, it thunders, during the rest of the year, look for its characteristic light, swaying flow. Bridalveil Fall is one of the most prominent waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley in California, seen yearly by millions of visitors to Yosemite National Park. The waterfall is 188 meters (617 ft) in height and flows year round. The Ahwahneechee tribe believed that Bridalveil Fall was home to a vengeful spirit named Pohono who guarded the entrance to the valley and that those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall lest they be cursed. They also believed that inhaling the mist of Bridalveil Fall would improve one’s chances of marriage.
On the way into Yosemite we stopped for lunch at Big Trees Lodge, formerly known as the Wawona Hotel. Big Trees Lodge is a National Historic Landmark located within southern Yosemite National Park in central California. The tranquility of this Victorian-style lodge in Yosemite makes it a favorite of those who prefer a relaxed environment and the charm of a bygone era. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. On March 1, 2016, the Wawona Hotel was renamed Big Trees Lodge due to a legal dispute between the US Government, which owns the property, and the outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, which claims rights to the trademarked name. Big Trees Lodge is considered one of the most respected and most frequently visited Yosemite hotels. Its authentic Victorian architecture features beautiful white buildings, classic verandas and lush natural surroundings. At the Big Trees Lodge, there’s something for everyone.
On our way back from Darwin Falls we decided to stop in Panamint Springs for what my friend Steve said was the best steak in Death Valley. While it is a small place it actually is a small family run restaurant, campground and resort with fabulous views of Death Valley. Panamint Springs Resort is a rustic, western-style, resort located in beautiful Panamint Valley in Death Valley National Park that provides lodging, camping and RV services, a restaurant and bar, and a gas station with a well stocked general store. Marvelous views of distant sand dunes and the soaring 11,000 foot high Panamint Mountains complete the setting for leisure dining and relaxation. The resort is located at the western end of Death Valley National Park.
For many years I have heard of a miracle in the desert, Darwin Falls, a spring-fed waterfall flows year-round in a narrow gorge in the driest place on earth, Death Valley. This year I decided to visit. Its lush streamside thickets of willows ring with the song of migrating birds in springtime. The falls are located just west of Panamint Springs via a 2.5 mile unpaved road. Although there is no formal trail, the mostly level, two mile walk to the falls involves rock scrambling and several stream crossings. Darwin Creek is one of the four perennial streams in three million-acre (12,000 km²) Death Valley National Park. Darwin Falls and Creek are fed by the Darwin Wash, which is in turn fed by the volcanic tableland of the Darwin Bench between the Inyo Mountains and the Argus Range. The small, narrow valley where the creek and falls are located features a rare collection of greenery in the vast desert and is home to indigenous fauna such as quail. Darwin Falls, the Darwin Falls Wilderness, the nearby town of Darwin, California, and all other areas named “Darwin” in the vicinity are named after Dr. Darwin French (1822–1902), a local rancher, miner, and explorer.
The Furnace Creek Inn was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company of Twenty Mule Team fame as a means to save their newly built Death Valley Railroad. Mines had closed and shipping transportation was no longer needed, but mining tourist pockets seemed a sure way to keep the narrow-gauge line active. The borax company realized travelers by train would need a place to stay and wealthy visitors accustomed to comfort would be attracted to a luxury hotel. First opened for business in 1927, the Furnace Creek Inn was an immediate success. Unfortunately for the mining company, their railroad closed forever in 1930 when it became apparent tourists preferred the freedom of arriving to Death Valley in their own cars. Nonetheless, the Inn remained popular and construction continued for the next ten years. Designed by prominent Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin and landscape architect Daniel Hull, the 66 room Inn sprawls across a low hill at the mouth of Furnace Creek Wash. With views over Death Valley and the Panamint Mountains to the west, the Inn’s location was well chosen and blends into the landscape. Most of the lodging is closed in the summer, when temperatures can surpass 125 °F (52 °C), but the golf course remains open.
I decided to take another trip to Death Valley to document the smaller flowers of the super bloom. The bloom changes over time, different species claim their place in the hierarchy. Although the photographs show many of the same plants at the same size, some are quite small. This year (2016) is an amazing year for Death Valley flowers since a super bloom is in progress. As a result, I am planning multiple visits to Death Valley to photograph the bloom in progress. The bloom is definitely moving north and higher in altitude. Although there are still expansive fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) along the Badwater Road, as well as carpets of Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa) from Mile Marker 42 to the end of the road, many of the other flowers in this area are past their peak. Blooms will migrate up canyons and climb mountains as the air rapidly warms through spring. “When I first came to work here in the early 1990s, I kept hearing the old timers talk about super blooms as a near mythical thing,” says National Park Service employee Alan Van Valkenburg. “I saw several impressive displays of wildflowers over the years and always wondered how anything could beat them, until I saw my first super bloom in 1998. Then I understood.”
I am attracted to blank spaces on the map. Increasingly, these “end of the world” places are harder to find but nonetheless real, you know them when you see them. Machu Picchu, Hasankeyf, Göbekli Tepe, the Fiords of New Zealand, Tasmania and Death Valley are just a few of the places that transport us to the past, the future, the possibilities of life. Sometimes these places are far away, frequently they are just across the street, in my case two hours from Las Vegas. Many potential visitors ignore Death Valley due to the misconception that it is simply a lifeless, empty landscape, but this 3.4 million acre (14,000 km2) park is not only the largest national park in the contiguous 48 States of the USA but also arguably one of the most striking specimens of Mother Earth. Nearly every major geological era is elegantly exposed here in what sometimes appears to be one of her greatest tapestries, gloriously presenting her full spectrum.
In perennially water challenged Los Angeles, succulets have always been a popular choice in landscapes but recently they have experienced a surge in popularity fueled by the latest trendsetting landscape designs. Interest in drought-tolerant plants was, and still is, on the rise, a response to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Cash for Grass program and Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25 percent mandate in the face of California’s historic drought. Not just collectors, but everyday folks are showing their affinity for cactuses and succulents by planting them in the yard, outdoor entertainment spaces and centerpieces designed to sit on the dining table. I happen to love the diversity and beauty of succulents and I know there are many readers with the same interest. Since we were visiting Studio City in Los Angeles last weekend, I had a chance to photograph some of the best specimens.