Archive for March, 2007

A Riot of Color Near Yosemite

  Date Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Spring is the season of wildflowers in the Merced River Canyon just outside Yosemite National Park. Beginning in March, a six-month show of beauty unfolds there, then progresses up by elevation into the national park, as temperatures rise, snow melts and new blooms appear.California State Route 140, from Mariposa to Yosemite is the first to display color.

From now into April, the grassy green flanks of the Merced River Canyon become splashed with yellow, blue, lavendar, orange, purple, pink and red, as fields of poppies, owl’s clover, Sierra Nevada peas, lupine, mock orange wildflowers and redbud shrubs populate its hillsides.

One of the Sierra Nevada’s best wildflower trails is the Hite Cove Trial, located eight miles west of El Portal in the canyon. Some 50 to 60 varieties of wildflowers grow along this trail, which begins from Savage’s Trading Post and winds five miles along slopes above the south fork of the Merced River. The trail rises and descends, so good walking or hiking shoes are recommended.Displays of wildflowers are evident all along the trail, though the best are found beneath the shade of foothill oaks where colorful communities of Indian pinks, baby blue eyes and globe lilies live. The observant will find monkey flowers, shooting stars, fiesta flowers and waterfall buttercups in seeps and little creeks that flow to the Merced River from melting snows above. Near the end of the trail are the photogenic remains of an abandoned gold mine and town.

Accommodations closest to Hite Cove include vacation homes at historic Savage’s Trading Post, deluxe rooms at the Yosemite Cedar Lodge and luxury rooms at the Yosemite View Lodge, all in El Portal. More information is found at

Movie Colony Hotel

  Date Friday, March 30th, 2007

Ed. Note: The following article was written for the Fall, 2006 edition of California magazine, an excerpt of which can be seen on

Albert Frey had longed to apply the teachings of his friend, the great modernist designer LeCorbusier, when he was assigned to design the San Jacinto Hotel in 1935. At the time, however, the predominant and accepted architectural style in Palm Springs was Spanish colonial revival, and yet Mr. Freys resulting interpretation of that style had the bones of a modernists structure. Seventy years later, the hotel has finally become what Mr. Frey (pronounced f-ray) intended a pure example of Desert Modernism.

In its new life as the Movie Colony Hotel, Mr. Freys creation is a cluster of 16, townhouses and guest rooms, all with one thing in mind its guests relaxation. Rooms are furnished with custom and vintage chairs, sofas and tables by Eames, Breuer, Nelson, and other great mid-century designers. Muted neutral colors, suede headboards in some rooms, restrained modernist tweeds, Knoll throw pillows, vintage black and white architectural photographs by Julius Shulmann, and sea-grass carpeting establish a sense of sophisticated informality.

Because the hotel is so compact, any room is just steps from the pool and spa. However, that didnt stop rock star Jim Morrison from leaping recklessly into the pool from the upper floor of the Sinatra townhouse. If youre a celebrity like Mr. Morrison (remember, this is the Movie Colony district of Palm Springs), youll find privacy within the walled compound and from its curtained porches and terraces. Couples have the pool and spa basically to themselves.

However, if social interaction is what you crave, theres plenty of it. The hotels small community of guests gather mornings and evenings around an outdoor fireplace as flames leap from a bed of ice-like glass. They relax in directors chairs, Eames rockers and on a Nelson marshmallow sofa as they recall their day in Palm Springs or read quietly. At the breakfast and wine bar, fresh avocados and Naked orange juice (this is Southern California, if you need reminding) are served with the continental breakfast. And at days end, manager Bruce Abney pours Dean Martinis, the hotels homage to Palm Springs cocktail party decades the 50s and 60s – made from sweet vermouth, Geikkekan Sake (brewed in California), cranberry juice, Naked orange juice, lemon seltzer, a dash of sweet vermouth, and poured into sugar frosted cocktail glasses, while Sinatra sings Summer Wind in the background.

We found the Movie Colony online, said Londoner Ruth Jarvis who with business associates Will Fulford-Jones and Sarah Guy were combining business with pleasure in Southern California over a holiday weekend. She explained, they had sought a period building with personality run by its proprietor, and we didnt want the cost associated with supporting a full-service staff. Like many of the hotels guests, Ms. Jarvis and her friends were 30-somethings seeking refined retro digs to rest and explore Palm Springs.

The Movie Colony makes it easy to do so. Complimentary cruiser bikes are there for guest use, though Palm Canyon Boulevard with its chi chi shops, restaurants and watering holes is only a block walk away if you prefer to walk. On your return to the Movie Colony, a boulevard of San Pedro Cactus along a sidewalk on North Indian Canyon Drive guides you back to the hotels entrance designed by modernist architect Frank Urrutia. Bowing to Mr. Freys use of indestructible materials, Mr. Urrutia added a cantilevered overhang of corrugated and polished metal that wasnt there when Mr. Frey first conceived the San Jacinto. He then warmed Mr. Freys dazzlingly white cubist form by draping friendly yellow canvas behind pipe railing. Magenta bougainvillea, queen palms, San Pedro and beavertail cactus and aromatic ginger further soften the hotels angularity.

A room at the Movie Colony Hotel varies from $189 to $309 depending on type, season and night of the week. More information is found online at

Lake Camanche

  Date Friday, March 30th, 2007

A woman once said, “I love California. It’s as green as Ireland.” I responded, “You must have visited in March.” “Yes, but how did you know?” she answered.

From March through May, California’s Central Valley – particularly along its eastern foothills — is carpeted with lush, verdant grasses and wildflowers. However, the show is shortlived, turning to gold in June as grasses dry and remaining such until the following spring, but for those few months, it’s easy to imagine – as my acquaintance did – that California is always dressed in Irish green.

I spent the last couple of days in such a place… Lake Camanche, a recreational area operated by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, approximately 50 miles southeast of Sacramento. I’ve been there in the heat of summer and there’s little comparison to the bucolic scene to be enjoyed at this time of year. Camanche is now surrounded by undulating grass-covered hills that are forested with Valley oaks whose newborn leaves decorate dark boughs in bright yellow-green. Across these emerald pastures, black Angus steers graze in languid ecstasy likely unaware that such perfection will soon enough be desicated.

The fresh snowmelt that has filled Lake Camanche has turned the lake and its nearby neighbors (Pardee and New Hogan reservoirs), yet few anglers or boaters were out on the lake, and those that were had the idyllic scene and trout and bass to themselves. In summer, it’s a much busier place. Full body contact is allowed (jet skis, wakeboarding, towables, etc.) which attracts folks out for wet, cooling excitement.

Located between SR 88 to the north and SR 12 to the south, Lake Camanche is midway between Lodi and the Gold Country. The lake offers tent campsites and cottages on both shores of the lake with RV hookups on the south shore, only. Onsite convenience stores and marinas and snack stands on both shores provide the basics or you can shop or dine nearby or drive 20 minutes to SR 49 for Gold Country restaurants, shops and casino action.

More about Lake Camanche is found at