Enjoy Rob’s full story at his Native Landscaper site — I’ve excerpted a portion of it below:
By Rob Moore
The Jacumba Mountains were of particular interest to me as a child because this was the location of the Desert Lookout Tower. It was surrounded with giant boulders and featured fascinating rock carvings as well as a little shop/museum where artifacts, souvenirs and refreshments were offered. The tower was constructed in the 1920’s and was staffed by a friendly gentleman who sold admission tickets and offered up historical information printed on a pamphlet. After ascending a few flights of stairs to the top of the tower we would be rewarded by an amazing 360 degree view of an ‘other-worldly’ landscape with segments of the old auto trail road winding down the steep incline. It seemed there was always a steady breeze at the tower, even though just below the desert temperatures were hot and unforgiving. Being up on the deck was a wonderful treat. I found the varying terrain and native flora fascinating, and I loved experiencing it by way of regular road trips with my grandparents, my grandpa narrating all the while.
As a young child I always enjoyed these road trips to the back–country. We would drive up old Hwy 80, bouncing along to the rhythm of what seemed like an endless succession of expansion joints; stop a mile or so south of the Los Terrinitos/Descanso junction and eat lunch under the Coast Live Oaks. This shady destination featured a natural roadside spring and was known as Ellis Wayside rest stop, named for Charles Ellis who was Station Master of the Coyote Wells Stage Stop circa 1865.
I was fascinated with the history of the meandering old concrete highway and the circuitous path it wound through giant boulders that jutted out of the chaparral. Manzanita covered the hillsides and I remember being intrigued by their smooth red bark and how green the country side was at the height of the summer. All the while, I was being drawn in by stories of the old stage coach road that my grandpa’s older brother and father traveled back and forth from the Imperial Valley to San Diego at the turn of the century.
When I was ten, my mom re–married and we moved from Lakeside east to an unincorporated area near Alpine known as Flinn Springs. This exciting new place I was lucky enough to call home, was a vast, wide-open plant community, known in California native plant circles as interior sage scrub. I spent countless hours wandering the hills, exploring, and familiarizing myself with the native flora and fauna. The ubiquitous aroma of Black Sage and Artemisia filled the air as I wandered the seemingly endless trails and pushed through the Chamise, always careful to avoid the sharp spines of the Yucca whipplei. I scrambled over huge granite boulders hunting for snakes, lizards and horny toads. During the hot inland afternoons I would find respite in the cool shade of a grove of Coast Live Oak in a nearby canyon, an area we simply referred to as ‘The Oaks’.
I got to know the critters that called this community home, as well. Jack rabbits would appear out of nowhere, bolt across my path and disappear into the brush a few seconds later. Flocks of our state bird, the California Quail, with their signature three-tone call exemplified the ‘sound’ of the chaparral.
Occasionally, I would see a greater roadrunner with an unfortunate reptile dangling from her beak. I heard that seeing one of these birds was good luck, so I was always excited when a sighting occurred, hopefully optimistic that something good was going to happen to me in the near future! Of course, I was always on the lookout for rattlesnakes and ever aware of the red-tailed hawk circling high above in search of his next meal. With so many new discoveries and experiences, this was a truly magical time of my life!
Unfortunately, this magical time was to be short–lived. As I was enjoying a care–free life in the sage scrub, a large developer was meticulously plotting to implement a much different vision for my beloved open space. With final approval from the County, his bulldozers began the process of systematically destroying this paradise I had grown so fond of. We had heard rumors but that didn’t soften the shock that fateful day I came home from school only to see acre upon acre of scrapped hillside, literally stripped of all vegetation.
The vernal pools left over from winter rains where I caught frogs and pollywogs in the spring, the great granite boulder that had been precariously embedded in the side of the hill for thousands of years—a place where I built a make–shift Indian enclosure under a Laurel Sumac which grew from its base, even the bike trail and dry creek bed that my brother and I would race through, flying up and out of the other side—in a matter of days…gone forever!
My family and I moved shortly after construction began, but I never got over the sadness I felt from losing this place. I carried it with me for many years longing to return to the wild place where I felt so at home.
That experience was indelibly imprinted in my malleable young mind. Throughout my adulthood I would notice feelings of sadness and frustration rising whenever I saw native land being cleared for a new housing project or shopping center. I always wished that there was something I could do to rectify what I saw as an on–going wrong, being perpetrated on our natural environment.
As fate would have it, many years later, as I was finishing up my education in ornamental landscape design, I happened across an advertisement for a course in designing landscapes utilizing California native plants. It was offered at the Theodore Payne Foundation located in Sun Valley. I was intrigued and, even though it was a long drive from my home in Orange County, I decided to enroll.
At some point over the course of the four weekends I spent there, while walking through their nursery, the realization struck me. I realized that the plants I had loved so much in my childhood, were not only available for purchase, but could be grown in suburban gardens, and that as a Landscape Designer, there was something I could do about the on-going destruction of our native open spaces. Like the proverbial apple falling on my head, I was overcome with a feeling of joy, one that I had known as a child growing up in the wild places in the back–country of San Diego County, the feeling of coming full-circle, of coming home.
At that moment I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had discovered my calling: California native landscape design. Today, with every garden I design, assist others to create through consultation, lecture, or writing, I am recreating that lost paradise from my childhood. I am restoring California’s native landscape, one design at a time!