The Louis L'Amour Lost Treasures Project

La Quinta, California: A Story and An Experience
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A golden eagle soared on motionless wings,
riding the thermals . . .


My mother’s family had once owned quite a bit of property in the California desert.  Her father was a land developer who had built a swanky resort on Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains and then moved on to plan a neighborhood of more working class vacation homes in the valley south of the La Quinta Hotel, just east of Palm Springs.

World War Two and then a fatal heart condition put an end to my grandfather’s plans after only a few houses had been built.  The bulk of the investment land had to be sold off to meet estate taxes.  My mom, her mother and her two brothers, however, were able to hang on to the property that had been my grandfather’s headquarters, a sixty plus acre date and citrus farm along with a small house, caretaker’s cottage and work sheds.  That place lasted into my young childhood and was a favorite hangout of my father’s.  I can even remember my mother getting up in the middle of the night to wheel and deal at the Los Angeles Fruit Market

From the La Quinta “ranch” Dad would walk the slopes of the San Jacinto mountains and explore the areas from Banning to the north shore of the Salton Sea.  His knowledge and love of the low desert, so poetically expressed in The Lonesome Gods, sprang mostly from the experiences he had while based at my mother’s ranch between the time they met in the mid 1950s to the time the family sold the property in the late 1960s.

The La Quinta Experience:

     Already I had walked further than intended, but where did the trail lead? Obviously others had followed it. An Indian trail originally, I had no doubt, but a white man had done work here and there, probably to turn the old Indian trail into a bridle-path. I walked in.

     The growth was changing, a subtle change but visible to a discerning eye. There was no palo verde now, no ocotillo, although still occasional barrel cactus or cholla. I glimpsed an evergreen (buckthorn), a plant used by Indians to provide a deep yellow dye. Usually it was found in the juniper areas of the mountains. It was very hot.

     Pausing, I turned to look back. The valley was lost in haze. No individual buildings were visible, although the roads were still to be seen in the places where they were closest to the mountains.

     A golden eagle soared on motionless wings, riding the thermals. High as he was and insignificant as I must seem, I knew he was interested in me. I was not listed in his table of possible food items but nevertheless I was important to him because my walking (might) startle small creatures into movement and so expose them to his attack. Nothing happens in the wilderness without its repercussions.

     Another mile, and still another. By now my wife would know what had happened and whatever breakfast had been prepared was put aside until later.

     The trail followed the easy contours of the mountain, rising steadily but not abruptly. Animals and Indians unless startled do not waste strength in climbing straight up. They are wise enough to conserve their strength and accept the easy way.

     Twice I saw lizards...once a small gopher, but no snakes. So many people worry about snakes in the desert but snakes do not like heat, they prefer shady places and one should avoid stepping too close to the shade under bushes or trees and rocks. Rarely have I come upon snakes in the desert. They are there, of course, but are nocturnal creatures and avoid man when possible. Nevertheless, one should walk with caution and not stoop to pick anything from the ground without a careful look around, and of course, be careful to notice that stick you are reaching (for) is really a stick and not a snake.

     At one time I was in the desert for several months and saw nothing resembling a snake until the last day. A very pretty young lady offered to drive me to the mine to pick up (my) travelling gear and on the way out and back we ran over three snakes, all headed in the same direction. Some snake convention, no doubt.

     Now, suddenly, the trail dipped down into a small fold in the hills and I stopped, amazed.

     Before me was an oasis of palms, at least two or three hundred of them tucked away in the hills out of sight. This, then, was where the trail led.

     There was no sign of man. The (palms) were cloaked from top to bottom in the skirts of old (palm leaves), leaving each tree ten to twelve feet in diameter.

     All was very still. No bird moved...nothing. I walked warily, not knowing what animal might start up or what else I might find. There was no water visible. It is often said that a palm tree has its head in the sun, its feet in the water, and it is true that where one finds palms water is not far below the surface.

     Once in the grove I stopped, listening. In the wilderness, and particularly in the desert, one finds one's self often pausing to what?

     No sound...only stillness. A faint wind stirred the dry palm fronds, a small creature rustled among the dead leaves at the base of a palm. I moved on, working my way through the grove toward the center.

     Suddenly, I stopped short, my hair prickling on the back of my head.

     There, her back to me, dirty blonde gray hair falling over a (shawl of dead palm leaves), and seated on a fallen palm log sat the witch that haunted this place. I scarcely breathed, then slowly, I relaxed.

     It was not a witch. Not really. It was the stump of a fallen palm, broken off by wind...a sight rarely seen...covered by palm leaves and looking very much as described. I had a camera, and took a picture. The witch did not move. Nothing stirred. Edging around through the palms and brush I looked at her from the front.

     No face, and no features, the streaky blonde-gray hair covered where the face must have been. There was an opening...was she looking at me?

     Satisfied that I had found the spirit of this lonely place I walked away.

     I did not look back....

- End of Fragment -




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