Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It’s hard to believe that about two weeks ago, I was at a Joshua Tree art opening, socializing and having a good time. Today, that night feels like it was months ago.

Like many of you, I have been isolating at home—here in Morongo Valley, in my case—and I have only ventured out to the mailbox and grocery store as of late. I’m seeking respite and human connection online via Facebook and through phone calls with family and friends.

Among my local acquaintances, I’ve noticed a lot of crankiness about out-of-towners in AirBnBs who are staying here to ride out the pandemic. There’s a real “don’t come here; go home” vibe, and a locals-only feeling within the high desert communities right now. While Joshua Tree National Park closed all roads to vehicles, bicyclists and hikers can still go in—yet I’ve seen online "reminders" to tourists that Joshua Tree park is CLOSED, so please stay away.

Otherwise, things up here seem similar to things in the Coachella Valley, based on what my friends and co-workers down there tell me. Last week, my husband, Shawn, went to Stater Bros., and while it wasn’t too crowded, the store was lacking in paper products, bread, cleaning supplies like bleach, and big bottles of ibuprofen. (He did score a small bottle—just in case.) Posted signs indicated a one-per-person allowance of rice, milk, what bread was left, tortillas and a few other things. A handful of shoppers wore masks, with one person carefully covered from head to toe—in sunglasses, a mask, gloves and long sleeves. All store employees were wearing gloves. Shawn carefully wiped down all our groceries when he got home.

Non-essential businesses are not open, of course—but auto-parts stores are deemed essential, and their busy parking lots reflect that folks are happy about this. Fast food drive throughs remain open, and there are lots of them along Highway 62. You can order a pizza to-go at Domino’s—but you don’t go inside; they slide it out the door to you.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has cancelled all shows through late April—but the legendary spot is offering takeout food four days a week. Tourist-trap eateries like the Joshua Tree Saloon are also offering takeout, as well as beer or wine to go. Joshua Tree’s popular Crossroads Café went further than most, offering free essential food packages on March 22 and 23 as a “way to give back to our loyal community.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been catching up on TV via our DVR. I tuned into an episode of Ancient Aliens on the History Channel from a couple of weeks ago. To my surprise, the show featured Landers’ giant rock and George Van Tassel’s Integratron, with some commentary from our own Ken Layne of Desert Oracle fame. Pretty cool.

Less cool: I also watched MSNBC’s On Assignment With Richard Engel: The Outbreak, which originally aired on March 8. It was a thorough, inside look on how the coronavirus started in China, covering what happened there before COVID-19 spread to other countries like Hong Kong and Singapore—and how their governments all fought to contain it. It was eye-opening and scary. I was glad I watched it, but I went to sleep disturbed and cranky.

The next morning, I woke up and dragged myself out of bed—it’s been like that a lot lately—to do my usual a.m. exercise-bike routine. As I climbed on my stationary bike and readied myself for a sweat, I looked outside—and saw a beautiful rainbow creeping up out of some dark storm clouds. During my workout, the rainbow slowly grew until it was full, and then stayed—in a brilliant blue sky—for more than half an hour. It helped remind me: It’s best to focus on the little things, breathe and stay in the present moment. It’s all we can really do right now.

Later that day, as I walked my dog to my mailbox, I ran into a new neighbor, out on our unpaved road. He had his truck and a shovel and was digging up and moving rock obstacles—to make driving easier for all of us.

That’s another comforting thing to remember: We are all in this together.

Oh, and to the dude out on the street in Yucca Valley selling “I SURVIVED CORONAVIRUS 2020” T-shirts … here’s to hoping we do, my friend.

Published in Features

There is a tropical garden up in the most unlikely of places—the high desert—that grows orchids, by the thousands.

I discovered it by pure chance while on another assignment in Landers, located north of Yucca Valley about 55 miles from Palm Springs. As I drove on Belfield Boulevard, I saw dozens of cars in a busy parking lot next to a huge tent-like structure. I thought it might have been a celebrity wedding—but instead, it was the largest orchid nursery I’d ever seen.

I grabbed my camera and started taking photos of the gorgeous orchids—and didn’t stop until I went through tens of thousands of square feet of absolute botanical beauty owned by Gubler Orchids company. It was a true photographers’ paradise.

Any horticultural expert will tell you that orchids are among most elegant, most expensive and most sought-out flowers. It’s a fact that Charles Darwin was doing research on orchids while also working on his Theory of Evolution.

The Gubler family has been gardening at their Landers orchid nursery since 1975. According to Heidi Gubler Brodeur, there have been three generations of botanists in her family, starting with her grandfather, Heinrich Gubler, who owned a nursery near Zurich, Switzerland, back in 1918.

“My dad, Hans Gubler, arrived in the U.S. in 1949,” she said. “He lived the American dream. In 1954, after having saved $300, he started his own business selling orchids out of a station wagon in Altadena, Calif.”

Later on, Hans Gubler named Cattleya orchid hybrids after each of his three children: Lc. Christopher Gubler, C. Karin Ann Gubler, and Pot. Heidi Gubler.

Over the years, Gubler Orchids grew into one of the largest orchid growers in the nation. The crucial moment for the company’s expansion came with the move to the high desert, where the family built advanced solar greenhouses.

“We came here for clean air, pure water, sunshine and four growing seasons,” Gubler Brodeur said. “We ship our orchids throughout the world and everywhere nationwide, even to Alaska.”

Today, the company is led by Chris Gubler, who managed to double it in size and increase sales 10 times over since taking the reins.

But not everything has been rosy for the Gubler family in the high desert: They suffered a big blow during the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Landers on June 28, 1992.

“I was in shock. Everything our family had worked for had been ruined,” Chris Gubler said.

However, this horror story has a happy ending.

“It turns out that the earthquake was a rebirth for Gubler Orchids, as we made huge capital improvements to nursery,” he said.

Gubler Orchids also owns and operates another nursery nearby in Lucerne Valley, but it is closed to the public. Between the two nurseries, the Gublers own approximately 155,000 square feet of producing greenhouses.

The family also owns a couple of orchids that are beyond 60 years old!

The future of the company seems secure, with the fourth generation of Gublers stepping in: Chris’ daughter, Kelsey, just joined the company after graduating from Cal Poly.

Gubler Orchids is located at 2200 Belfield Blvd. in Landers. Its showroom, growing grounds and greenhouses are open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 760-364-2282, or visit

Published in Features