The free pleasures of Sunnylands Center
It’s an untapped source of fun and culture in a sublime desert setting. And for most events, there’s no admission charge.
Sunnylands Center and Gardens, 37-977 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, offers a plethora of feeless programs. It’s open to the public Thursdays through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
There are nature walks, art exhibits and plein air painting, family day activities, yoga, tai chi and more. For all the five Sundays in March, for example, there’s “Music in the Gardens,” 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Leading off March 1, a duo of musicians from Idyllwild, Joey Latimer and Don Reed, perform.
More than guitarists, they bring along other string instruments from mandolins to ukuleles. The repertoire is eclectic, to say the least. It’s a combination of genres — light rock, bluegrass, country, etc. They encourage back-and-forth conversation with their listeners, creating a friendly atmosphere.
It’s an informal sort of concert. There are no seating arrangements, though it’s OK to bring along lawn chairs. The audience can stay put or continue to enjoy the music while strolling about the grounds. Check the www.sunnylands.org website for the program lineup for the rest of the March Sundays.
Food is available at the Center café, or it’s possible to bring a picnic and settle down elsewhere. No-nos: alcohol and coolers.
More events, displays
The art exhibit gracing the center corridors for the coming year focuses on gifts to the Sunnylands founders. It’s titled “Treasures at Sunnylands: Selections from the Gift Collection of Walter & Leonore Annenberg.” The 46 presents displayed include everything from a beaded safety-pin necklace from Hilary Clinton that Leonore Annenberg treasured to a small vehicle, an Austin Mini Moke, courtesy of Frank Sinatra.
Local artists are invited to Sunnylands for a plein air session on Saturday, March 7. Gates open early just for them at 7:30 a.m., and they can spend the entire day if they wish. Participants bring their own easels and paints, plus ground covers to protect the walkways. Watercolorist Jean Bradley offers instruction from 9:30 until noon. Reservations are mandatory; call (760) 202-2234.
Offsite at the Rancho Mirage Library on Feb. 20, at 2 p.m., the Sunnylands Speaker Series headlines Norman Lear. The TV producer/author holds forth on the topic “Even This I Get to Experience.”
Family day at the center on Sunday, Feb. 22 focuses on sculpture from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Sculptors interact with children and adults.
The regular weekly roundup of events also highlights a 60-minute guided gardens walk, 11 a.m. on Thursdays. Friday at 9:15 a.m. it’s the bird walk to track local and migratory species — vermillion flycatcher, anyone? Binoculars advised.
At noon, Kristin Olson leads an hour-long yoga session on the great lawn. Beginners are welcome, just BYO mat and wear appropriate yoga gear. Then tai chi meets Saturday at 10 a.m.
Half-hour center and gardens walks are slated Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
Armed with brochures picturing the dozens of desert-happy plantings, we showed up for the longer Thursday morning nature walk. Of course it’s permissible to roam the center grounds on your own, but a knowledgeable leader lifts it to a higher level.
Michaeleen Gallagher, director of education and environmental programs, took the helm this day, undaunted by the gang of 154 following her every word. (Up to 200 walkers are accommodated.) The terrain is dotted with more golden barrel cactuses than you’ll ever see, backed up by taller plants like agaves and trees like the palo verde that every spring turns a bright yellow.
Gallagher pointed out the banks of milkweed, the only food a Monarch butterfly will eat. And it has to be the right kind of milkweed for this area, or it disorients the beautiful creatures.
At richly endowed Sunnylands, even the hardscape nearer the center buildings is special. It’s Lithocrete, which among its other superior qualities doesn’t project heat like concrete.
Unlike a therapy session, these treks cost nothing. But cares seem to drift away. Sentimental lines from high school days’ poetry might come to mind: “go list to nature’s teachings…” (From “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant