Yes, there’s life beyond Kent, even for me! This page is for photos and snippets about various places far away from my beloved little corner of the world that I’ve visited in recent times and found interesting. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some photos and words from friends on here who’ve had trips to natural environments with a story. So here goes…

Southern California

Joshua Tree national park, Temecula, Santa Rosa Plateau, Mt Palomar state park

My first selection is from my trip to see friends in southern California in July 2018 . Huge thanks to them. Photographs © Adam McCulloch

Cactus garden

Teddybear cholla cactus (cylindropuntia bigelovii) in Joshua Tree national park’s Cactus Garden, which straddles the border between the Mojave and Colorado deserts. An extraordinary place. The spines get embedded in your skin despite you not realising you’ve touched them. I was picking them out for days afterwards.

prickly pear cactus

A prickly pear cactus in the northern part of Joshua Tree national park. Not sure whether this is the chaparral or Texas variety of the plant. Tell me if you know. Apparently, Charles Darwin was the first to describe these cacti’s thigmotactic anthers: when the anthers are touched, they curl over, depositing their pollen.

Road Joshua Tree

The north to south road in Joshua Tree NP commands views south to the Colorado desert including the eco-disaster that is the Salton Sea and settlements with picturesque names like Slab City and Bombay Beach.

Mt Palomar

The Mt Palomar observatory – from 1949 until 1992 the world’s most important optical telescope. A monumental building on a 6,000ft mountain. The glass used for the mirror of its largest telescope, the Hale, took a year to cool down and more than a year to prepare for installation in the late 1930s. The 200-inch optical instrument has played a key role in discovering asteroids, dwarf planets and the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet. This picture was taken just as a rare (and violent) high-summer thunderstorm broke overhead. It had been forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far, but the Mexican monsoon (which occasionally draws moist air from the Pacific and/or Caribbean into the mountains of southern California in the summer) had different ideas and decided to add hail, torrential rain, high winds and a lot of electricity to the mix.

The Joshua Tree national park is a paradise for botanists. One of the trees here (left, back) is a pinyon pine, once a key food source for Native Americans and still a vital part of the area’s ecology. Sadly, global warming and pine bark beetles have seen the pinyon trees die off in many areas of the park

Joshua Tree national park. Joshua trees are extraordinary. Members of the yucca family, they are pollinated by various sub-species of yucca moth in different parts of the desert. Like the pinyon pines they are threatened by climate change.

Monarch caterpillar

A monarch butterfly caterpillar gorges on milkweed, in my friends’ garden (in Temecula), which comprises mainly native plants. The monarch butterflies themselves are wonderful to behold; like flying stained glass windows, in orange, black and white. Their fluttering is interspersed with lengthy glides. Fascinating to watch.

The gorgeous garden in Temecula attracts several spectacular butterfly and hummingbird species, none of which were available for photographs!

Santa Rosa plateau

Santa Rosa Plateau ecological reserve, north west of Temecula, Riverside county. This superb protected area is a hub for native flora and fauna, including mountain lion, red diamond rattlesnake and San Diego alligator lizard. California oak woodland, with Engelmann oak, is a rare and treasured habitat as is purple needlegrass prairie. We saw a pair of white-tailed kites here and what I thought was a flash of tarantula retreating further into its hole. I subsequently learned this was unlikely because these spiders were currently ‘estivating’, ie spending the hot dry season in a period of torpor – like hibernating but in the wrong season. However, it was in a deep hole and the light had caught its movement. If not a tarantula, it was a larger spider than I’m used to seeing!

Santa rosa

Santa Rosa plateau is also valued for its human history; the area was important for Native Americans for thousands of years and has adobe structures from the 19th century Mexican land grant (just over the hill…)

Mt Palomar state park

At Mt Palomar state park the ecology (Californian mixed evergreen forest) makes a huge contrast when compared with the semi-desert, grasses and chaparral of neighbouring areas. The height of the ridge and attendant winter rainfall (762mm a year – 200mm more than London!) means there is a lot more verdant growth, but conifers are under attack from bark beetles and the number of dead trees was unsettling. The wildflowers here in spring are said to be stunning.

Doane pond, Mt Palomar state park

Doane pond, Mt Palomar state park. This is a good spot to aim for when visiting the park, with lots of wildlife, a car park, picnic benches and several hikes through forest and meadow. The scene here, to me, is much more like how I imagined Oregon might look, not somewhere so close to the Mexican border.

Boucher Hill lookout post view

The view south-west from Mt Palomar’s Boucher Hill fire lookout post (5,400ft). Sadly I didn’t think to take a picture of the striking 1948 watch tower itself. But I noticed that the – possibly volunteer – ranger manning the post took her job very seriously, relentlessly scanning the southern horizon for smoke, despite a pretty powerful storm cell having passed through the region just two hours previously.

Meadows Temecula brittlebush

California brittlebush (encelia californica) flowering in Temecula‘s meadows, currently being rewilded by local people through the Meadowview community group, with guidance from botanists and soil experts.

Meadows, Temecula

The meadows of Temecula are a superb resource for local people and look set to become a particularly valuable one for native fauna and flora, educationalists and naturalists, too. With so much development around encroaching on to remaining wild spaces, such places are vital reminders of the authentic California that has existed for millennia.

Lavaux district, Vaud canton, Switzerland

I visited this area on the northeastern shores of Lake Geneva in April 2018. I was covering the Cully Jazz festival for Jazzwise and possibly Guardian Travel.

Vineyards, Epesses. The south-facing slopes of the Swiss side of Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Vevey-Montreux are lined with ancient vineyards set on terraces dating back to Roman times. They produce mostly white wine from the chasselas grape. Pictured is a vineyard at Epesses near the larger village of Cully.

Cully Jazz has become a real gem on the international festival circuit. Big enough to attract star acts (Birelli Lagrene, Gregory Porter, Lisa Simone etc) but small enough to stage young, local, often more experimental bands like this one, led by trumpeter Zach Ksyk, playing on the outdoor free stage. It’s really easy to navigate and is a great excuse for visiting a truly spectacular part of the world. See review at Jazzwise

Epesses. Another view of the steep wine terraces with their maze of footpaths and irrigation channels.

Charlie Chaplin’s house. Prevented from re-entering the USA in 1952 because of alleged communist leanings, the pioneering film actor, director and composer settled near Vevey and enjoyed a superb semi-retirement with his wife Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene) and their eight children. He probably could have gained entry to the US had he pursued the issue but he decided to cut his ties with the country. He never regretted his decision to move to Switzerland despite never mastering French or German and he soon found this beautiful house – not a bad pad for a boy born into poverty in Lambeth, who was forced to live in a workhouse at the age of nine. The house is now part of a superb museum.

Montreux. Another local resident was Queen founder and vocalist Freddie Mercury, honoured by this imposing statue. He didn’t like the town when he visited with the band in the late 1970s but ended up regularly recording there (despite initially saying they should have put the studio at the bottom of the lake!). After his Aids diagnosis in 1987 Freddie apparently felt more at home in Montreux, enjoying the fact that he didn’t attract a lot of media and unwanted attention.

Les Rochers de Naye, near Montreux. A cog and wheel train takes you near the top of Les Rochers de Naye, a 6,500ft mountain. The walk to the summit from the cafe seen in the picture is hard work in 10ft of snow, which even in mid-April, was still lying around after a tough winter. The distant mountains seen in this picture include giants like Wildhorn, the Eiger, Jungfrau, Mönch, Finsteraarhorn and Gletscherhorn. Two golden eagles circled around me at the time I took this photo.

Les Rochers de Naye. The foreground view is dominated by the limestone pinnacles of the 6,000ft Dent de Corjon.

Les Rochers de Naye. The view south to Les Dents du Midi, a range of mountains to the north of the Mont Blanc massif that rise to 10,686ft at La Haute Cime (on the right). The shape of these mountains has changed so often over the centuries, because of rockfalls, that they are constantly being renamed.

Les Rochers de Naye. The cog and wheel train costs about €60 return and takes 45 minutes-1 hour to get to the top. Well worth it, even if dear, and an interesting range of fellow passengers joining and disembarking at colleges, villages and clinics en route.

The winemakers’ village of Epesses is highly traditional and built to take up as little room as possible so as to allow more room for vines.