Succulent-heavy New Year’s Day in Southern California

Happy New Year! I wonder how long it will take me to remember that it’s now 2016…

I spent last night—New Year’s Eve—in Blythe, a non-descript town on Interstate 10 just a few miles from the Arizona border. It’s half-way between Phoenix, AZ and Palm Springs, CA and hence was perfect for my needs.

The coffee in my motel was execrable, but fortunately there was a Starbucks nearby. If I’d had more time, I would have had breakfast at this iconic-looking coffee shop:


25 miles west of Blythe I made a brief stop in the ghost town of Desert Center to photograph this gas station:


I simply have to share what Kathy Stoner of GardenBook wrote on Facebook earlier today after seeing this photo:

I'm not making this up I swear. I once excecuted a surprise birthday party at this very gas station in the middle of the night, in a VW beetle (circa 1969) on a road trip to Sedona. Back then if you had to drive through the desert in a car with no AC it was an all-nighter!

The world may seem big, but sometimes it’s a small place.

The first major stop of the day was at The Living Desert, a combination zoo and botanical garden in Palm Desert. I’d first visited The Living Desert with my family in 2011 and even though it hadn’t been on my list of destinations for this trip, I decided last night to change my itinerary.







Near the jaguar exhibit, a very friendly docent by the name of Bernie Rummonds asked me if I was Gerhard. It turns out she’s a regular reader of Succulent and More and had messaged me last night to invite me to The Living Desert! Talk about coincidence. While I didn’t receive her message (no cell phone signal on T-Mobile in Blythe), it’s as if my subconscious received it and prompted me to change my travel plans!

I had originally budgeted two hours for The Living Desert, but I ended up spending four. This made it necessary to ditch a few other destinations in Palm Springs I had wanted to visit, but there’s always next time.

With under four hours of daylight left and another two hours to drive, I decided to make only one more stop: Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. Pitzer is one of the renowned Claremont Colleges. What makes Pitzer so special is that the entire campus is a quasi botanical garden (John R. Rodman Arboretum), with a special focus on succulents and desert plants. The Cactus and Succulent Society of America held its 2015 convention at Pitzer this past June.

The Arboretum manager, Joe Clements, was the curator of the desert garden at the Huntington before starting at Pitzer in 2000, and his influence is visible wherever you turn. This is a truly special place since succulents are literally everywhere—imagine stepping out of your dorm and walking through a succulent wonderland to your classes! I’ll have a special post about Pitzer College soon.









Tomorrow morning I’ll meet Denise of A Growing Obsession, Gail of Piece of Eden, and Luisa of Crow and Raven at the Huntington, and then I’ll be on the road again, homeward bound.


Note: Somehow it seemed appropriate to give all the photos in this post a vintage desert look. Don’t worry, my detailed posts on The Living Desert and Pitzer College will have normal-looking photos.


December 2015 Desert Trip index


  1. So happy you visited Pitzer College! I had thought about it until I realized how far out there it is, looking forward to your photos...and have fun at the Huntington with the ladies!

    1. I drove right by Pitzer. I'm so glad I stopped, especially since I had the place to myself.

  2. I like the way you did the photographs, sepia tones with the fading black border. Very moody. The ghost towns are very nostalgic. People didn't get so much mileage in those days and needed the gas and the water more frequently.

    1. Even 20 years ago there were more places to stop along these desert highways. So much has gone away for good. It does make me sad and nostalgic.

  3. Looks like I missed you by a week, Gerhard! My better half and I were down in L.A. last week visiting his brother, we hit Claremont college to see the Santa Ana Botanical garden (where I bought several native plants from the very extensive nursery on the grounds), and also swung over to the Living Desert to shop at their nursery. I was disappointed in what was available, previous visits to the Living Desert have found the nursery to be chock-a-block full of intriguing and rare desert plants, but other than 15 gallon cans of Palo Blanco trees, I found the nursery to be only a shadow of what was previously available from past visits. I guess the promotion of giraffe feeding should have clued me in that their focus has shifted from the authentic to the entertaining, sigh. I did have a good time at Waterwise Botanical Nursery in Escondido, where I bought several succulents, including several intriguing species of slipper plant (Pedilanthus). You might want to stop at the Theodore Payne foundation on the way home, it's off Highway 5 in the upper San Fernando valley, they had a very good nursery of natives you might be interested in for your border that runs along the sidewalk along side of your house. Sue

    1. What coincidence! I need to do a Southern California-only trip. There are so many places I want to visit.

      I, too, was disappointed by the nursery at the Living Desert. Always sad to see empty shelves at a nursery. I came soooo close to buying a palo blanco because they had one perfect specimen (larger than the one I have, with beautifully peeling bark). In hindsight I should have; I thought I would have been able to make it fit in the car.

  4. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed the photos of your trip Gerhard, but the gas station at Dessert Center was icing on the cake.I can't even say how many times I've been on that Hiway 60 run from LA to Phoenix . You've inspired me to plan a road trip of my own.

    1. Having inspired you makes me happy. As far as I'm concerned, road trips are the best way to unwind :-).

  5. What a fine road trip you've had, Gerhard. I'm looking forward to your posts. So great to see you at the Huntington today. A very memorable visit!

    1. I agree! I had such a blast with you, Luisa, and Gail and Alan. I loved how between all of us we could ID almost every plant :-).

  6. Hello Gerhard. I tried posting a few days ago but it didn't post for some reason. I'm trying again. It was serendipitous meeting you on the 1st. Looking forward to your detailed posts about your trip.

    1. Bernie, great to meet you as well. I still smile about the coincidence of it all.


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