“The dance of the palm trees, the oceans calling, the first rays of sun and heaven is here.”~ Mike Dolan
Almost certainly over the years these words or similar ones were used to describe the memories and blessings of Crescenta Valley living. Thousands of years ago, the area’s indigenous people – the Tongva – gazed from their vantage point high in the foothills.
From there, looking down through the lush valley below and across a vast expanse of the (now) L.A. basin, the sparkling blue water of the Pacific Ocean was visible. Were they awed by what they saw? I think so … yes, absolutely! In present day, looking out over the landscape in the opposite direction – driving north on the 2 Freeway – there is also a vantage point. The entire Crescenta Valley, the San Rafael and San Gabriel mountains and their foothill communities are spread out. This is our home as it has been for many over the years. The day-to-day weather and seasons may change, but the sense of awe remains.
Over time, the population has grown and changed, adding to the number of houses and other structures. The once semi-arid landscape of native plants was slowly replaced, as more water was made available by digging wells and piping it from other areas. Before then, the Tongva either lived close by or had to travel to collect water. At these locations plants were gathered and animals hunted, as the Native Americans’ survival also depended on this same water. While much of the flora remains the same, one type in particular was not found growing in the foothills during those early days.
Across the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, along the Southern California coastline, in our yards and lining the streets, an icon sways with the breeze. An extremely successful – and a favorite of many – hamburger drive-thru uses this icon in its advertising design. You guessed it – the palm tree! They have taken over, both literally and figuratively.
In the past 100 years they have become a symbol of Southern California. Somehow their very image conjures up feelings of leisure, relaxation and living the good life. If palms are neither native nor especially fond of the climate, why are they here? Well … there is a story to be shared.
To be fair and accurate, there is one species of palm native to the area, the California Fan. Needing an abundance of water they grow in stands, deep in the moist arroyos and along the L.A. River. Native people collected and used their wide fan shaped fronds for making baskets, clothing and shelter. The Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries planted the first non-native date palm in 1769. Subsequent immigrants brought seeds from various places. During the 1930s Great Depression, 25,000 palms were planted, creating jobs for L.A. city’s unemployed. Probably intended, they added an artistic-touch for the 1932 Olympic Games.
If you enjoyed last weekend’s tropical rain forest weather, you are in luck. A similar scenario is coming together. An area of high pressure is present in the four corners region. This pattern encourages a southeast flow of warm and moist air, which signals the return of the monsoonal flow. It’s destination? Southern California and it mostly affects the desert, mountain and foothill locations. The almost two inches of received rain is a priceless bonus; as for the heat and humidity? Let’s just say it is the perfect weather … for a palm tree!
A threat of thundershowers over the San Gabriels will linger through Sunday; then, early next week dry southwest winds are expected to blow the remaining monsoonal remnants from our part of the world. The standard dry heat will return once again as local palms sway in the summer breeze.
Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.