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California Desert Names

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Guest blogger Susan Chesney writes about the evocative place and nature names of the California desert.

One of my favorite places is the California desert, because in that silent place there are many secrets.  Most people drive through the desert as fast as they can with their windows up, radios blaring, and air conditioners on. They don’t know about the gray-green sagebrush that grows in little clumps away from the highway, and that hidden among the clumps might be a bleached antler, lying in the sand. What if they knew that outside the town of Bishop, there are several hot ditches, natural and soothing hot springs, waiting to be soaked in, free of charge? Or what about this secret: that the desert is unpolluted– there is very little trash and the skies are a deep blue. I love the mirage effect out in the desert. There is a blend of haze and heat that shimmers and is mystical. In the movie “Lawrence of  Arabia”, when asked why he loves the desert, Lawrence replies, “Because it’s clean.”

Among the precious secrets of the California desert is the treasure trove of names that dot the landscape along with the cactus, lizards, and Joshua trees. There are little towns, rivers, lakes, hills, plants, animals and even colors in the desert that can provide inspiration for babies’ names. Some of these names are comfy or even popular like Owen and Joshua. Others are vintage, offbeat and quirky such as Aberdeen and Rosamond. So let’s wander out under the cottonwood trees that grow next to the crick (creek), set up some lawn chairs, and talk about California desert names.

Some place names from the California Desert:

ALABAMA – the Alabamas, hills that are older than the High Sierras

ABERDEENAberdeen trailer park

BERNARDINO – San Bernardino County, goes all the way to the Nevada border

BISHOP – biggest town in the Owens valley

CADIZ – a tiny community in the Mojave Desert

CALICO – a ghost town, used to be a mining town

CHINA – China Lake

COACHELLA – a town near Palm Springs that hosts the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

COLORADOColorado River

HARPERHarper Lake

HESPERIA – a city in the Mojave Desert

INDEPENDENCE – a very small town in the Owens Valley

INDIO – a city near Palm Springs

JACINTO – San Jacinto Mountains

JOSHUAJoshua Tree National Park

LEONALeona Valley

MOJAVEMojave Desert

OWENOwens Valley

PALM – Palm Springs

PINELone Pine, Big Pine, little towns in the Owens Valley

PEARBLOSSOM – sounds like a fairy, but it’s a town in the Antelope Valley

PINON – Pinon Hills, pronounced PIN-yon

RENOReno’s café, that may still be in Mojave, had various sizes of animal heads on the paneled walls.

ROSAMOND – a small town in the Antelope Valley.

VICTOR – Victorville, a large town on Interstate 15 that has every kind of fast food you can imagine.

ZZYZX – the man who founded this tiny community wanted its name to be the last word in the atlas. Pronounced ZIZZ-ex.

Nature Names of the California Desert:

CLOVER – prairie clover, a plant

CORAL – a color in the desert

COYOTE – desert coyotes are usually clean and healthy looking, unlike their urban cousins.

DAISY – white wooly daisy, a plant

FOX – the desert kit fox

JACK – jackrabbit

JUNIPERUtah juniper, a plant

LARKSPUR – a plant

ROSY – rosy boa, a snake

SAGE – sagebrush

TURQUOISE – a color in the desert

Susan Chesney, a graduate of Art Center College of Design, was the president of a printing and graphics company for twelve years. She lives near Pasadena, California with her husband Kent, daughter Laura (son Peter lives nearby), and cat Moses Malone.

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