Travels With Betty and Sally, Part 3

Touring the Way Out, Far Out West by Car, Golf Cart, Plane and Launch
June 18 - July 14, 1999

By Lewis Nolan

Updated Nov. 19, 1999. Please visit again
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Like Mother Like Son: Betty Nolan Drives Her Mustang Sally; Casey Drives His Millenium Mustang
Identical Ford Convertibles with Tops Down at Casey's Apartment Complex in Palm Desert, Calif.


Speedy Jumps To Trip Segments

Part 1: Memphis to Oklahoma City, Route 66, Tucumcari, N.M., and Sante Fe
Part 2: Taos, N.M., Williams, Ariz., Grand Canyon, Desert Drive to California
Part 3: Palm Desert and Palm Springs, Calif.
Part 4: Honolulu and Oahu Island, Hawaii
Part 5: Tubac, Ariz., West Texas and Hope, Ark.
Photo Album

Quick Jumps To Points Of Interest On This Page

Westin Mission Hills Gary Player Signature Golf Course
Indian Wells Garden of Champions
Wind Farm
Joshua Tree National Park

Friday, June 25, 1999 – At Palm Desert

Casey adhered to his routine and left early for his office while Betty and I slept.
Once we had a light breakfast, I went out to buy Casey a gas grill for his patio while
Betty stayed behind to deal with the complex maintenance department over a faulty door
lock. I got the grill at Wal-Mart, where I was surprised by the friendly and
knowledgeable clerk who sold me an assembled floor model. I drove it back to Casey’s
place with it riding in the back seat of the convertible, top down. Betty and I then found
the propane gas station, which was entirely staffed by Hispanics, and picked up some
grill accessories and supplies at a nearby Home Depot. We stopped at a well-run car
wash, where a crew of hard-working Mexicans diligently and expertly removed 2,000
miles of bugs and road grime from Sally. We were surprised to see that the car wash cost
less than similar service in Memphis. The availability of cheap, industrious labor from
Mexico certainly has its good points for the buying public in Southern California.

Back in Memphis, the Hispanic population has grown from virtually nothing
when we arrived in 1970 to an estimated 50,000 in 1999. It seems that every construction
site in Memphis has a crew of Mexicans. The laborers who put the tile, the plaster and the
gunite in our pool four years ago were all Mexican; the brick paths laid in our garden
three years ago were done by Mexicans; the foremen and ditchdiggers who installed
sprinklers in our yard this spring were all Mexican. Viva Los Mexicanos! Our city now
has two Spanish language radio stations, several festivals and a bevy of specialized food
stores and authentic restaurants. The Memphis Police Department is using billboards to
help recruit Spanish-speaking officers, necessary to communicate with an alarming
number of Hispanics who are victimized by black gangs.

After locking Casey’s new grill to a patio support beam with a steel cable
(despite the security gates, somebody ripped off a potted bonsai tree from his patio
recently), I took an afternoon snooze while Betty went on a major shopping expedition.
She bought our young bachelor some needed household supplies, including an iron and
ironing board, rice cooker and assorted kitchen equipment. Upon awakening, I chipped
some practice golf balls on a lush plot of well-watered grass while Betty laid in a supply
of food. It was great having home-cooked meals after all the road food; an added benefit
was the opportunity for us to show Casey how to cook some of our favorite dishes. We
had an excellent dinner of herb grilled chicken with noodles, piquant green beans and
salad. It was even better because our small family was once again enjoying our tradition
of eating well and enjoying one another's conversation and company over a leisurely
evening meal.

The average temperatures here in June reach 103 during the day and 66 at night.
In July they go to 108 and 74. The pool is mildly refreshing in the morning. But by late
afternoon the hot sun seems to heat up the water to the mid 80s. While the locals always
point to the low humidity making the day’s heat more bearable, it is still hot as hell here.

Exotic Golf Carts are Sold on Main Drag of Palm Springs, Calif.

Saturday, June 26, 1999 – In Palm Desert, Calif.

Casey and I played a fun (but slow) round of golf at the famous Westin Mission
Hills
Gary Player Signature Course outside of Palm Springs. From the white tees, it is a
6,044-yard layout with a rating of 68.0 and a slope of 114. Off the tips, it is much harder,
with 7,062 yards, 73.9 rating and 134 slope. The fairways of the desert course are of
plush, green grass. There is a lot of water on the course, all of it in artificial ponds,
cascades and small waterfalls. The fairways and surounding, short rough is wide enough
to accommodate an occasional stray shot without undue punishment. We saw lots of
rabbits and roadrunners. While there weren’t many people on the course, we were in a
bubble of slow-moving foursomes with morning tee times to beat the late day heat. The
greens fee, including cart, was only $45, about a fourth of what it is during the high
season. Every cart is equipped with a jug of ice water, carried in a special rack.

Jim Rosenbaum, Clark’s corporate safety director who was in town to visit
Casey’s job site, joined us. He is an excellent golfer and good company. I shot a 93 (48-
45), but felt I should have been under 90. I was disgusted by my play on one of the short
Par 5’s, where I got to the fringe of the green in 2 and then took 5 strokes to get the ball
down. I had repeated problems with stubbed chip shots and atrocious sand play. Casey
was also well off his game, scoring a 93 while losing 5 balls.

Betty had decided to stay at Casey’s apartment rather than ride around the golf
course with us. She put the day to good use by doing some motherly organizing and
cleaning, taking breaks to watch the hummingbirds just outside the front door and to sun
at the pool. That evening we had another fine dinner, consisting of Sole Meunieure, rice,
broccoli and salad. With Casey’s frugality giving us only one channel of broadcast
television, we watched one of the videos Betty had given him earlier, “Blues Brothers.”
I’m enjoying reading the LA Times here, which Casey gets delivered on his doorstep at
6:30 a.m. daily. It’s a big newspaper, with quality content and a rack price of only 25
cents daily and $1.50 Sunday, half the price charged by my alma mater, The Commercial
Appeal in Memphis. The LA Times, predictably, carries lots of showbiz news and ads.
I’m glad to see that Casey is a newspaper reader; he subscribed to the Washington Post
when a student at the University of Virginia and later while living in Bethesda.

Lewis Nolan (left), son Casey Tour Construction Project
Garden of Champions is 15,000-Seat Tennis Stadium

Sunday, June 27, 1999 – In Palm Desert

With Casey again up and out to the office before dawn, Betty and I had a quiet
morning, with her sunning by the pool while I had a light workout in the nearby exercise
room. After lunch, Casey showed us around his construction project, a huge concrete
facility surrounded by acres of dust. One of the major challenges facing the engineers is
how to keep the dust from blowing, which if not dealt with adequately can result in large,
environmental impact fines. Clark has tanker trucks watering daily, but the dust still gets
into everything, including Casey’s office and car.

The site backs up to the starkly beautiful Santa Rosa Mountains, which are so arid
that there is not even a hint of green. The bare rock formations look like a moonscape,
making for an eerie backdrop for the tennis stadium. The Indian Wells Garden of
Champions
is being built so IMG can move two tennis tournaments it sponsors every
year from a smaller outdoor facility adjacent to the Hyatt Regency a few miles away.
Both tournaments are among the top tennis events in the world and are televised. The
women’s event is named for Chris Evert; the men’s event for Newsweek Magazine. Like
Forest Hills in New York and Wimbleton in England, the new, 15,000-seat stadium here
rises up like a punchbowl around center court. A dozen or so additional courts are outside
the stadium, with each having smaller seating areas.

The form of the stadium was clearly delineated when we visited, with the massive
concrete and steel beams already in place. Casey is justifiably proud to be a part of such a
big and important project and we are proud for him and of him. He showed us around his
surprisingly large office (surprising anyway when measured against the benchmark of
Schering-Plough’s rank-based office dimensions and furnishings, where junior managers
toil away in small, windowless cubicles). Casey’s office is one of several in connected
construction trailers that Clark has at the site; major subcontractors have smaller, satellite
office trailers. Everybody parks in the gritty, desert dust, which is tracked in by foot
traffic to cover every inch of the floors. Other than the dust and grit beneath the hanging
blueprints and other project charts, Clark’s general contractor offices look pretty much
like any other temporary facilities. But Casey’s office is at least orderly and efficiently
organized, including a “chart rack” he designed and built to hold the dozens of design
drawings he works with. He is responsible for overseeing the work of several
subcontractors installing various service and utility systems in the stadium. Being the
junior shooter, he is also responsible for a lot of mundane odds and ends that seniors in
every company push down the organization.

Casey drove us quite a few miles along Route 111, the principal street through the
ritzy towns of the Coachella Valley, including Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and
Palm Springs. Flanking that long pocket of wealth and glitz are the more modest towns of
Cathedral City to the East and Indio to the West. The main drag is lavishly landscaped
with a park-like median strip of well-watered grass and manicured plantings. On both
sides of the streets are benches, sculpture, fancy streetlights, hanging baskets, fountains
and winding pathways for joggers, cyclists and golf carts. We passed a shop selling
custom golf carts, built to look like miniature luxury cars. Expensive clothing, jewelry
and other shops line the road, with the miles-long line of fashionable storefronts
occasionally broken by luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, golf courses and shopping malls.
Some of the restaurants have shaded, al fresco dining, complete with misters that spray
tiny droplets of water. The evaporative effect of the fine mist lowers the temperature in
the immediate area by 10 or more degrees; the very low humidity ensures that the mist
does not dampen clothing or coiffures.

Later, Betty and Casey went shopping for glassware and other household items
while I hit a large bucket of balls at a Family Golf Center of America driving range. It
was by far the nicest range I’ve ever been on, with nearly new balls, good grass, excellent
putting and pitching areas, canvas shade and water misters over every bay, plenty of
comfortable benches and a well-equipped pro shop. The prices were even a little cheaper
than in cruder practice facilities in Memphis. The fact that Casey had pre-paid for 25
buckets, with empties automatically filled by a machine when activated by a computer-
chip key, made a bucket for $3 quite a bargain. That evening we showed Casey how to
cook chicken fried rice for dinner.

Lewis Nolan at Giganic Wind Farm Near Palm Springs, Calif.

Monday, June 28, 1999 – To Joshua Tree National Park

Casey got off to work at 5 a.m. in the hopes he could get enough work done so he
could leave early enough to join me and Jim Rosenbaum for an afternoon round of golf. I
spent part of the morning contacting the pool service back home to deal with a neighbor’s
report of very low water and a dirty pool. Afterwards, Betty and I took Sally for a drive to
Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour away to the Northwest. We went via I-10 and
drove past a fascinating sight of hundreds of giant propellers spinning about on huge
pylons. The interstate highway was six or eight lanes wide most of the way and is
hammered by thousands of cars and trucks on their way to and from LA

We had seen an electricity-generating wind farm near San Francisco several years
ago, but nothing to compare with the vastness of this colossal expanse operated by Green
Mountain Energy. The blades on these gigantic windmills are probably 50 or more feet
long; the steel towers are probably 100 feet high. There may have been several thousand
of them, looking like sword swinging, mechanical warriors marching up the hillsides on
both sides of the expressway for several miles. We stopped at Green Mountain’s office-
visitor center, where we were told that the consistent nature of the desert winds and the
staggered placement allowed by the gradual slope of the surrounding hills make the
location ideal for wind power. The lack of rainfall must also be a plus.

Green Mountain, which is based in Vermont and is one of a handful of significant
alternate power companies in the U.S., sells the electricity generated by its privately
owned wind turbines to various utility companies through the national grid system. It
produces enough to supply the power needs of the entire Coachella Valley, at a cost of
about 3 ½ cents a kilowatt. A Company brochure says that a typical residential electricity
bill of $150 a month from conventional utility companies using gas-fired and nuclear
plants would rise to $179 if all the residence’s power were generated by the wind. Green
Mountain also offers a “blend” of wind power, water power and biomass-geothermal
energy in various mixtures and prices. Its selling points to consumers – who have the
opportunity to choose its energy in California and some other states - include fighting air
pollution, smog, acid rain, global warming and the risks of storing radioactive wastes.

Each windmill costs about $300,000. According to Green Mountain, on a per-unit
basis of generating capacity, that is roughly equivalent to current cost of building a large
hydroelectric dam. The cheapest power comes from coal-fired plants; the wind advocates
say the U.S. will run out of coal in 200 years. The wind advocates also say it is extremely
unlikely that the public would allow any more rivers to be dammed in the U.S., shutting
the door to any significant additions to the nation’s hydroelectric generating capacity.
The point they make is that wind power is the source of the future, especially given the
public’s distrust of nukes. With the backdrop of huge, spinning propellers overlooking
one of the nation’s busiest highways, the futuristic vision doesn’t seem that far away. The
federal government, citing the belief of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson that wind has
the most potential of any renewable technology, announced plans in June, 1999, to rely
on wind for 5 per cent of its use by the year 2010. Despite the head-turning vistas of wind
farms in a few locales, wind only generates 0.1 percent of the nation’s power now. The
government, which is the nation’s largest electricity customer, believes wind turbines are
well suited for the upper Great Plains. They can be good cash producers for farmers, who
can grow crops or graze cattle in their shadow.

We drove through the town of Joshua Desert, which is miles-long and one-block
wide. It appears to be a thriving town that has grown up alongside Highway 62 much like
Tucumcari grew up alongside Route 66 a half century before. I suspect that relatively low
prices for the barren land make possible affordable housing for those willing to commute
an hour-and-a-half or two to LA. I saw a billboard for $80,000 homes at Joshua Desert,
which must be quite a bargain compared to the $400,000, new “starter” homes advertised
in LA proper. A story in the LA Times said the average resale price was $281,000, an
increase of 11 percent over the previous year. In Palm Desert, advertised home prices
seem somewhat comparable to Memphis, with new homes available from $100,000 and
middle-market homes going for $200,000. Of course, estate homes in both places are $1
million and up.

The Joshua Tree Park Visitor Center is just outside the town of 29 Palms, which I
recall visiting in the early 1950s on a family vacation to the desert. I was about 8 then and
still have a vivid memory of touring Scotty’s Castle in the Mojave Desert’s Death Valley
and asking Scotty where he hid his gold. Betty and I walked around an interpretive trail at
the Visitor Center, learning about the original 29 Palm Trees settlement that had sprang
up long ago around a desert oasis. The palm trees, or their descendants, still stand in a
bunched up thicket of greenery but the original pool of surface water has been gone for
several generations.

A Ranger at the Park entrance inquired whether we had a supply of water in the
car before admitting us. The hot drive in the high desert section of the Park took us by
Joshua Trees, yucca plants and other flora. We drove within a few feet of a panting
coyote, which had ducked into the shade of a large Joshua Tree on the side of the road.
We also saw several cactus wrens, lots of morning doves and a big, white lizard. During
the cooler months, rock climbers come from around the world to test their skills against
interesting formations of huge, cleaved rocks and boulders. From an overlook at 5,300
feet altitude, the air temperature was at least 15 degrees cooler and almost pleasant. It
was probably 110 degrees at 29 Palms, where we had stopped for gas. The view from the
overlook was obscured by LA smog. But we could see the Coachella Valley. Signage
designed for clear days directed our gaze toward Mexico and the distant Salton Sea, but
we couldn’t make out anything.

We returned to Palm Desert, where I met up with Casey and Jim Rosenbaum for
18 holes of golf at an extraordinarily well-maintained municipal course, Indian Wells
West. The course is one of two resort-style courses operated by local government. It is
adjacent to a luxury Hyatt Regency. Because of the paucity of tourists during the hot
months, we were able to play for only $25, including cart. The parkland course is hilly,
covered with thick grass and full of sand traps and water hazards. Off the white tees the
rating is 69.0 and slope is 110. I struggled the entire afternoon, losing a half dozen or
more walls to the many ponds. My short iron play, despite a lot of practice at the driving
range and at Casey’s complex, was pathetic. Although I scored a 103, the company was
great and I had a good time. We cooked chicken quesadillas and fiesta rice for dinner.

Tuesday, June 29, 1999 – At Palm Desert

Casey was again up and off to work before 5:30 a.m. Betty and I spent the
morning writing postcards, cleaning and preparing for our early start the next day for our
flight to Hawaii. It was a lazy day, with a little time spent in the workout center and the
pool. We grilled salmon on Casey’s new gas grill and retired early.


Continue Trip Account With Part 4: Honolulu and Oahu Island, Hawaii
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