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Thursday, February 16, 2012

A TASTE OF 29 PALMS, CALIFORNIA

A hidden treasure just outside Joshua Tree National Park and an easy drive from the Palm Spring desert area is Twentynine Palms, California.  Its climate and terrain make it the home of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the nation’s largest training base, a training site for some of our desert involvement.  Just go past the last traffic light and you are right in the Mojave Desert. 

Don't be deceived by this innocuous looking main throroughfare and think its charm lies only in the desert setting.  By the way, notice the incredible blues in the skies of these unretouched photos.  Wow!

Main St. 29 Palms, CA
Despite its size and location, more than 1.4 million visitors come to 29 Palms each year because of its location at the heart of some very unique places for hikers, bikers, photographers, campers, desert lovers, lovers of historic inns, cyclists, history buffs, and climbers.  Wander through the 29 Palms web site, and you will be amazed at what is going on here.

Rob and I first passed through 29 Palms in 2003 on our first visit to Joshua Tree National Park.  Then we learned that 29 Palms is also known as “An Oasis of Murals.”  The sides of buildings have become huge canvasses for artists to memorialize, in their unique styles, the rich history and heritage of 29 Palms.  That first time we did not have time to drive around and view more than a few murals, but this time we and our friend, Beth, stopped in the Visitor Center, picked up a map, and drove around to learn a little local history.  The town is a big, outdoor art gallery, and it is quite impressive. There are 24 murals in all and two pieces of sculpture.

I wish I could have photographed all the murals, but these larger-than-life-sized paintings are often in a place where I could not get a camera’s eye view of the entire mural.  Each mural has a story, and some make you gasp at the courage or generosity of the subject.  I will share a few with you.  Call this post A Taste of Twentynine Palms.  You’ll get the idea.  And if you are out this way, you will appreciate this town.

Sky Climbers-Sculpture in 29 PalmsThe Visitor Center abuts Bucklin Park, an addition since our first visit, but we enjoyed the mural “Neighbors in Nature” as well as the picnic tables, desert plants, shade, and a 15 foot tall sculpture, "Sky Climbers."  Even in January, the desert has bloom, and this park, dedicated to Bucky Bucklin, a retired Marine and community volunteer shared some of nature's beauty with us.  The park includes picnic tables, seating, and shaded areas.  The beautiful mural was obscured by other park features, but it offered a restful site for us to plan our "tour" of Twentynine Palms.

Mural #3 29 Palms CA
Dr. James B. Luckie "The Father of Twentynine Palms"

We almost missed this mural on the back of a building, but we stopped in an optician's office to get some help with a loose eyeglass lens.  We got to talking with the optician who was friendly enough to charge nothing for his service, and he filled us in on Dr. James B. Luckie who is known as the "Father of Twentynine Palms." Dr. Luckie sent  soldiers returning from WWI to homestead here. He hoped the dry desert climate would help them recover from the asthma, TB, and mustard gas poisoning they had as a reminder of their service.  In the 17x50 foot mural, he is seen with the soldiers for which he cared.

Mural #6 29 Palms CA
The Flying Constable, Jack Cones
This 16x60 foot mural memorializes "The Flying Constable" Jack Cones.  He was the law from his election in 1932 until his death in 1960.  He patrolled his 2,800 square mile jurisdiction in a Piper J-3 Cub.  Can you imagine?!  Not quite the picture of the retired gunslinger in cowboy boots leaning back against the front of his office on his wooden chair or rounding up a posse, is it?

With my son in the military, I am always cognizant of signs of respect toward them.  As 29 Palms is also a Marine base, it is no surprise that there are murals reflecting the community's involvement with the Marines, and there are murals dedicated to Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as this one entitled Desert Storm Homecoming and Victory Parade.  The Marines first came to 29 Palms in 1952, many serving in Operations Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.  When the troops came home from the Persian Gulf in 1991, more than 40,000 people came to the city for their Victory Parade.  This mural is huge.  It is 18x101 feet and dedicated in 1995.
Mural #5 29 Palms
Desert Storm Homecoming and Victory Parade

Other murals celebrate the gold mining period here and the settlers who built this place.  Some celebrate the wildlife and the beautiful desert sunrises.  One reminds us of the flash floods that raced through the area in the 1940s prior to flood control channels.  There's a mural for the 29 Palm Boys Basketball Tournament which for more than 40 years has drawn boys from California, Nevada and Arizona.  Football, climbing, and skateboarding are also commemorated.  Truly, a ride through this town is a ride through the past, present, as well as a positive look at the future.  Don't miss Twentynine Palms, and take the time to really see it up close and personal.
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