Day 2 of “On the Road” with Researcher Jim Andre at the Granite Mountain Research Center and Ivanpah Solar Plant


(Ivanpah Solar Plant)

March 11th, 2014

Woke up to cold cold cold. The wind howled all night and practically shook the little cabin they gave us to sleep in at the research center. Made coffee/tea in the cabin using our favorite hot water boiler, then had a quick bagel and cream cheese in the common room. At 9 AM Jim Andre, the botanist from UC Riverside who runs the research center met us for a 2.5 hour brainstorm for the film. He is remarkable. Smart, passionate —- has lived there at the top of the hill nuzzled up against the bulbous granite mounds, completely off the grid for nearly 20 years now. He and his wife Tasha have a two year old and a three year old, and she has to travel 80 miles to take a shower or do a washing machine load. Water is scarce. Even more scarce now that we are in a drought.

They talk about having had two “events” so far this year. We have learned that “events” is desert speak for some kind of weather. In this case – rain.

Jim Andre is a botanist who specializes in desert ecosystems. His primary concern is that as many as 20% of desert plants and insects have yet to be identified, cataloged, or understood. Yet, we are losing pristine desert lands at an unprecedented pace. We are losing desert species faster than we can name them.

We spoke about Ivanpah, the large solar plant developed just off the northern boundary of the preserve. Many desert aficionados are dead set against these large solar plants being built in the desert and David and I are just at the beginning of understanding why. According to Jim Andre, one problem is the technology may in fact be counter-productive. Construction alone of these large scale solar plants stirs up and destroys ancient desert pavement and soil, which in turn releases enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. There is so much more on all of this we need to discover but this in itself, gave both David and me pause.

After our meeting with Jim Andre which touched upon numerous themes and regions we might consider including in the film, he suggested a few places for us to see.  We drove to the other side of the Granites for a short stroll.  We found ourselves enchanted by a botanical delight of cactus, shrubs, flowering plants, larvae on tree branches and bees buzzing intensely in their pollination dance.

We got back in the car to travel further north into the preserve and turned right down an unmarked god-awful road that meandered way too far over bumps and crevices to what we hoped was the Cottonwood Spring, a natural perennial spring that was rumored to have lush growth and flora.

The road was too tiresome and long, we could only go between 3-5 miles an hour on it, and when we got to a spot where we could go no further, we got out and walked, exhausted just a short ways. David was game to walk further than I so I sat down on a rock to rest, and he continued beyond the bend. When he returned a half hour later I asked if he had ever made it to the Spring and he said no. We faced the hour and a half god awful road back to the black top before heading to the research center for dinner and bed. And the next morning, after yet another tough cold howling windy night in the cabin, we looked in our guide book to discover with some frustration, that we had in fact been on the correct road – that the Spring was only a half mile further. But we hadn’t even taken packs or water out of the car to make the journey. Better luck next time. Dreams of rocks. Cacti. Granite. And endless views to die for.