I had about given up on seeing any visually pleasing landscape in the Palm Springs area. Between the desiccated desert climate, the politically induced California drought, and the high walls encapsulating most yards, the image of Palm Springs as an oasis had been shattered. The public so-called gardens we had visited, called Sunnylands, had been a huge disappointment. It was mostly a historical lesson in political power. (the above link is to an article on my blog thehappylibertarian.com) Still, on the last day of our vacation, we all agreed to give The Living Desert Gardens and Zoo a try.
Expectations low, I dressed for a day in the scorching sun looking at snake skins and cactus skeletons. I had been happily barefoot the whole vacation week, except for a rocky 8 mile hike with dear hubby. I cannot yet keep up with him barefoot in the kinds of places he takes me, so I had worn moccasins for that. The rest of the week, all my shopping and running and restaurant going had been barefoot with no confrontations and no complications. However, this day was predicted to be much hotter and I didn’t know what type of sizzling pathways I might encounter. I put my Luna sandals in the rental car.
The Living Desert was actually in Palm Desert. (Here is their website: livingdesert.org) We arrived around 1:30 PM, parked in the brick inlaid parking lot, and went through the payment line, me deciding to remain barefoot for now. Besides the potential heat, I did not have much experience being barefoot around cacti, and was going to be carefully monitoring my environment. What I found was extremely clean cement walkways interspersed with freshly raked sand side paths. There were also a few wood and rock sections in places like aviaries and dedicated garden displays.
Even though I was going to be observant, like everyone should be when they are walking around, I wasn’t overly concerned. I have stepped on my fair share of goat head stickers and large burrs while running. I have also been through various patches of broken glass with no blood. Unless I walked directly on a cactus, most long thorns would be laying horizontal. The pleasure of the gardens was soon predominant in my mind.
It was truly a desert garden, but it was a creatively planted one. Even though there were not all that many things blooming, and those that were tended to be small flowers, it was visually engaging, inviting learning and exploration. Many plants were labeled, which was greatly appreciated because I was definitely out of my own area of plant knowledge. High desert in Idaho is quite different from what I was seeing there. There were concise descriptions and explanations of plant types and characteristics that made looking at them more enjoyable. Some of the plants had fun names (click on any photo to enlarge):
There were a couple of oases, with huge palm trees similar to some we had seen on our hike (post pending on funfitnessafter50.com) In one oasis, there was a grand owl, a wild guest, napping high up in between palm fronds, but close enough that it was a thrill to see it. The aviaries were not huge, but the birds were relaxed and practically posed for photos.
One highlight was the butterfly garden. On our way there, my mother-in-law and I were informed by a passing guide that we shouldn’t expect to see any butterflies. It wasn’t the right time of year yet. Much to our delight, a flurry of the delicate Monarchs hovered around while we were there.
Another bit of excitement occurred when a hummingbird thoroughly checked us out. In its garden, there was a profusion of trumpet shaped flowers on a large shrub, but it was taking time to look us over from several different angles. Our quick movements of surprise and then to see it as it darted this way and that around our heads did not seem to fluster it, but after a few minutes, it went on to other exploration.
A sample native village was set up in one section and seemed to be particularly popular with some sort of small black ant. I noticed the insects before anyone else, because, of course, they were tickling my feet and ankles. I think a couple of them may have nibbled at me. But since there were no shoes and socks for them to get into, it was simple to brush them off and proceed. Around that area, I also stepped on the only cactus pokey that I noticed. I felt a slight prick, so lifted my foot to see what it was. It was attached to my leathery sole like worn velcro. I removed it and tossed it into the adjacent garden bed. The gardens were planted right up next to the pathways, so I was continually walking close to cacti, but this was the only “encounter” I had.
Dear husband had wandered some by himself and happened to overhear a guide explain about a large spreading mound of dead cactus along one major path. It was the only really stressed plant we saw that day. The story is that the crew went to clean it up, but found a nest of pack rats living there. This was apparently quite acceptable, as they left it. If you lose your keys, they suggest you check there.
As it turned out, it never got terribly hot, at least not that I noticed. I know my feet have toughened up over the last few summers, but I still can reach my limit with hot surfaces sometimes. I was pleased to be able to spend the whole nearly 4 hours at the garden-zoo totally barefoot. My legs felt about as fresh when we ended as when we started, although my brain was tired of looking at things and I was getting hungry.
We looked at the animals in sort of fast forward as we made our way to the exit, stopping longer once in a while for a particularly interesting specimen. I wasn’t there for the animals, as it always seems a bit flat to go to a zoo without any kids. Still, there were some animals that weren’t part of the normal repertoire in my zoo expeditions. Most looked content, although we felt sad for the eagles in the cages. And the wolf looked dog-faced depressed. I took photos, but this one of the leopards will give you a taste of the wildlife.
I’m not up-to-speed on zoo prices, but for me the just under $20 entry fee was worth it for the garden alone. I would definitely go back again, but hopefully at a different time of year and maybe catch some other blooms. It didn’t leave me with a hankering for growing any cacti in my unlikely gardening zone, but the landscaping was inspiring and soothing; surprising for cacti. I’m sure the shade of the oases helped with this. Maybe I absorbed some of the color and shape aspect of it to apply to my own efforts here at home. Here are a couple other flowers I saw:
As for the being barefoot, I hope I’ve helped you see that it was just a normal variation of using my feet comfortably and wisely. Just as we are all constantly evaluating how to dress for the weather, often exposing legs, arms, and head when there are not extreme reasons to cover them, bare feet are an option. An option just as reasonable as choosing not to wear gloves most of the time because we can better use our hands bare to take advantage of their full potential in most instances. I got the impression that most people at the garden/zoo who saw me were intrigued, and some were jealous. They probably also went home and took their shoes off as soon as they felt they could.