The Gnarly Tree

When I lived in Sonoma County’s Valley of the Moon I my home was right next to Annadel Park and within minutes I could  be on a trail heading up into the rugged, beautiful park. One morning, I came upon a gnarly tree that was right in the path of the rising sun spreading over the upper part of the park.

Gnarly Tree from Distance-JPEG - Annadel

Santa Monica Morning

We decided to get out of the desert for the weekend. After all, we hadn’t been into LA for almost two months and we only lived two and a half hours away. But living in the desert for any long amounts of time – any season really – can get to a person. And it was getting to us. So, the weekend of the Oscars we drove into LA to see my sister in Brentwood and our friend Claudia in Santa Monica. We stayed at Claudia’s apartment out in Santa Monica and went to dinner down at the Bel Air Bay Club on Friday night and met some friends. The next day, I drove down to the Bel Air Bay Club to have lunch with my sister and my brother-in-law.

My sister had just gotten back from a three week trip to India and wanted to tell me all about it but right now was somewhat tired adjusting after two days back in the states. I told her about our new place we had just bought down in Palm Desert. I told her I was still fighting my divorce in court. It seemed like I was being chased by that mysterious – unstoppable – posse in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

On the Sunday morning of the Oscars I drove out to Ocean Avenue early in the morning and parked along the long park above the cliffs. The sun painted everything with an almost supernatural light. I walk up the dirt path with my camera on a tripod hoping to take a few HDR photos this morning. I walk along the path that I considered the most beautiful path in Los Angeles. I think I have always considered this since I was a little boy growing up in this massive urban complex that seemed so foreign to me to. The rising sun throws just the right amount of color on the palm trees and exotic plants along the long park that eveyone in LA knows and loves. After all, this is where legendary Route 66 comes to an end marked (today) by a marble women.

And there, up ahead, I see him sleeping peacefully in the warm morning LA sun. The light almost like some Hollywood lighting crew has been hard at work.I briefly set up my camera on the tripod and shot three photos in HDR and then merged them in Photomatix Pro and mix them a little in LightRoom 4 to get the below on 24x magnification you see below.

Top of the Morning

And then, only fifty feet away, the morning coast of Santa Monica Bay

Santa Monica Cliff

San Gorgonio Pass

The Pass of San Gorgonio
 (John Fraim, 5/24/12)

Morongo Casino From San Jacinto

The San Gorgonio Pass

John Fraim (May 2012)

“In the ancient days when the shore of the Pacific was young, when the white sierras had only recently been heaved upward and the desert itself was in a formative stage, the ocean reached much farther inland than at the present time. It pushed through many a pass and flooded many a depression in the sands, as its wave-marks upon granite bases and its numerous beaches still bear witness. In those days that portion of the Colorado Desert known as the Salton Basin did not exist. The Gulf of California extended as far north as the San Bernardino Range and as far west as the Pass of San Gorgonio. Its waters stood deep where now lies the road-bed of the Southern Pacific railway, and all the country from Indio almost to the Colorado River was a blue sea. The Bowl was full. No one knew if it had a bottom or imagined that it would eve be emptied of water and given over to the drifting sands.”

John Van Dyke, The Desert (1901)

* * *

Reading John Van Dyke’s 1901 The Desert this morning at the local Starbucks this morning at the busy intersection of Monterey and Country Club in Palm Desert. Just put the above quote from John Van Dyke at the beginning of my growing book on the history of Palm Desert. Hard to find a more dramatic way to start the book! Nature – when even remotely appreciated – is always much more dramatic than all the cultural noises and images we continue to clutter it with.

Cactus Spring Trail


Chris on the Cactus Spring Trail - 3

Chris Fraim on the Cactus Spring Trail – 1/30/13

My son Christopher has been visiting from the Bay Area and we’ve been exploring the various trails in the desert. Today, we drove up Highway 74 to the top of the mountain and hiked the Cactus Spring Trail out to the old gypsum mine. One of the most beautiful trails I’ve been on and a great way to get away from everything. We saw one other hiker on the trail today. The trailhead is only a 25 minute drive from Palm Desert.

Hopalong Cassidy

Into the Light

The Hopalong Cassidy Trail in Palm Desert


In Hollywood, William Boyd was offered the role of Hopalong Cassidy, named because of a limp caused by an earlier bullet wound. He changed the character to make sure that Hoppy didn’t smoke, drink, chew tobacco or swear. He rarely kissed a girl and always let the “bad-guy” draw first. In his movies, the good guy wore black. The first film was titled Hopalong Cassidy Enters.


William Boyd, or Hopalong Cassidy, has made 54 films or “Hoppies” as they were called. The original producer Harry Sherman drops the series. But Hoppy decodes to produce and star in 12 more Hoppy films.


In a precedent-setting move, William Boyd buys the rights to all of his Hoppy pictures. He thus secures the rights to the name “Hopalong Cassidy” and forms a company called “Hopalong Cassidy Productions.” To help raise the $350,000 to purchase the rights, the Boyds sold their ranch home north of Malibu and moved into an apartment in Hollywood. “We were,” Grace Boyd recalled in a 1991 interview with The LA Times, “down to absolutely nothing.”


William Boyd acquires his older pictures from Paramount Studios in 1949 and sells them to television stations. The first TV station to show a Hoppy movie was KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. There were 66 feature movies and 52 half-hour television shows. Over the next few years, Boyd marketed all sorts of products and received royalties from his comic books, radio and records. Approximately 2,400 products were endorsed by Hoppy. The most valuable was probably the Hopalong Cassidy tricycle. As America’s first real television hero, the wise and tough cowboy with the friendly grin became a show business phenomenon. Boyd, as Hoppy, appears on the covers of LifeTime and Look magazines. During a 26-city tour, a million fans turn out to see him.


William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) and his wife Grace retire to Palm Desert where they build their winter home, painting it black and white, their favorite colors. Grace Boyd has by this time acquired the name “Tripalong” because being a tiny lady, she had to take at least two steps to every one of her 6’ tall husband’s long strides.

In his years in Palm Desert, Hoppy could easily by recognized as he drove his white Cadillac around Palm Desert, stopping at Ed Mullin’s pharmacy & fountain joining the early morning coffee crowd to solve the problems of the day. Saturday mornings, Hoppy would come to the pharmacy to greet the children and their parents and pass out wooden coins with his name and picture on them. He even participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony when a new frontage road opened. He didn’t use scissors. Rather, he shot it apart with his trusty six-shooter.


William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy) dies. At a loss after his death, Grace Boyd begins her more than 35 years of volunteer work at the hospital in Laguna Beach where her husband spent his final days. But Hoppy always remained part of her life, including winning a two-decade legal battle stemming from a copyright infringement suit, and appearing at Hoppy tributes.

“Everybody I talk to is looking for a hero,” she said at the Lone Pine Film Festival in 1995. “They say, ‘If only we had Hoppy again,’ or somebody like that. The children don’t have role models. Who do we have?”


The City of Palm Desert dedicates a hiking trail in honor of William Boyd or Hopalong Cassidy. The trail was dedicated to a man who never compromised his image of “The Good Guy in Black.” Mrs. Boyd and members of his family attended both the dedication and an open house at the Palm Desert Historical Society to honor this American legend.

(Excerpt from a book in progress by John Fraim on the history of Palm Desert tentatively titled Sand Hole)

Death Valley

Will anyone ever write again about the desert like Edward Abbey?

* * *

The Journey Home

“Death Valley”

Edward Abbey

From Daylight Pass at 4,317 feet we descend through Boundary Canyon and Hell’s Gate into the inferno at sea level and below. Below, below … beneath a sea, not of brine, but of heat, of simmering waves of light and a wind as hot and fierce as a dragon’s breath.

The glare is stunning. Yet also exciting, even exhilarating – a world of light. The air seems not clear like glass but colored, a transparent, tinted medium, golden toward the sun, smoke-blue in the shadows. The colors come, it appears, not simply from the background, but are actually present in the air itself – a vigintillion microscopic particles of dust reflecting the sky, the sand, the iron hills.

On a day in June at ten o’clock in the morning the thermometer reads 114 degrees. Later in the day it will become hotter. But with humidity close to zero such heat is not immediately unpleasant or even uncomfortable. Like the dazzling air, the heat is at first somehow intoxicating – one feels the grace and euphoria that come with just the right ration of Old Grandad, with the perfect allowance of music.


Overlooking the Coachella Valley on Highway 74 above Palm Desert.

The Distant Symbol

The Distant Symbol

The Salton Sea In Memory & Anticipation

John Fraim

(Partially complete …)

Information flows over us today in all forms. We are inundated by the greatest amount of information ever hanging over culture. It is something that all levels of culture live with. Party. Race. Gender. Age. That one unified group Thomas Paine called Society or the People against the Government.

Of course all of factors like these affect the individual filters on the incoming content of the information environment out there. This information is the zeitgeist of everyone and everything in our culture, the “medium” Marshall McLuhan talked about in the 60s that contained all of the “messages” within it.

Our current culture, a construction of the greatest amount of information in history, demands that the populace buy into the consumption of all of this information. Television. Radio. Advertisements. Products. Brands. Celebrities. We are not united by the things we consume but rather by the fact that we all consume things. Its bombardments of information at members of society hitting each person with thousands of information pieces each day.

In all of this scenario, if one buys into it, is that those that refuse to consume in the consumer culture of information go against the grain that the controllers of the culture (like the government, whatever party). And, they go against this grain in a much powerful way than those that simply go against consuming in a certain part of the culture.

Sometimes, the less information you’re provided with, the better. The greater exercise of your creative powers needed by you. Needed? That great power in the absence of the consumption of information zeitgeist of American culture. What of those that don’t consume information. But of those who also create information.

Too much outside, mostly electric information creates the world for us. Video games become more real to many young people than the reality their own unreality is part of. Is this all a bad thing when many today say reality sucks?

* * *

What we can’t fully see yet need to see, we envision and our act of envisioning is often made more powerful by the very dimness of a symbol, far away in the distance of future events. A symbol that needs this envisioning by us. Those of us who attempt to make their particular escapes from this above clutches of consumers of cultural information.

Often, the greatest symbols of our lives are felt more than seen, sensed more than enveloped. Like water surrounding fish, the great electronic culture continues to impose itself on the non-consumers of information.

In this sense, those great symbols in our lives that regulate life’s cyclic tides like the moon effects women’s cycles, or, the cycles of feminine nature.

* * *

The Coachella Valley is two hours east of LA on a good day without much traffic. The valley is of course known for its famous destination cities like Palm Springs Desert Hot Springs. Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage and La Quinta. Indio. Among others.

I’ve been visiting this valley since I was two years old and have come to live here this last March.

The Salton Sea has remained the great mystery symbol to the geography of my life. I’m not sure how. I’ve only visited it once since living down here. Our group was going down to visit the Salton Sea on a bus departing from Sam’s parking lot in Palm Desert. A drive down to the Travertine Point, center of this development on the Salton Sea. Ground zero for a great future planned resort on this nearby great symbol of water.

What was it about that great body of forgotten water, the greatest lake in California, that has made it subject to developments over the years? A symbol to so many people so many years ago. And a symbol today for me? Perhaps for many?

* * *

A few weeks later I was on a smal bus heading down to Travertine Point, the ground zero point for a utopian community that is developing around it in the next few years. The bus was full of a number of members of The Thousand Palms Chamber of Commerce that I told my friend Chas I was always going to join. It was this little bus trip that has spurred all the writing above. The anticipation of this trip down to the development point on the Salton Sea. This anticipation has produced all yoiu’ve read so far.

Sunrise Over Palm Desert

Early Morning Sunrise In Palm Desert

Desert Cheetah

It was a warm afternoon in November and the Cheetah at the Living Desert in Palm Desert was out sunning himself. He was far from the kids with their families who only saw a blotch of orange on the sun-drenched hill inside his habitat. But with our 24x zoom on the Leica, we were able to get up pretty close to him.

It was a few weeks after the end of one of the most intense political battles in my life. Everyone and everything seemed on edge in our fragile culture of the moment. Yet the Living Desert Cheetah seemed to symbolize for me the relaxed stance of Mother Nature in the midst of all of our political craziness.

I worked on the image in LightRoom 4 after first processing it first in Photomatix Pro. The backlight that we are almost shooting into suggests a type of light at the end of the tunnel for us in culture as well as this great creature, in nature. We sharpened the images of the shrubs on the bottom part of the image. But there was little need to put more gold into the scene with technology than mother nature offered up to us on her own.