Agua Caliente stars

Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night* and a wild new year,” I thought as we returned to Agua Caliente at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, to enjoy clear, cool nights under the desert stars and to discover new stars!  Howdy Doody was already celebrating* while sitting on the picnic table next to publication stars, Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith), and behind the mask, a Buddha’s hand (fingered citron) symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune.

DSC_0021 Mardi Gras stars

Good fortune came to our early morning wildlife stars, first the white-winged doves, followed by Purple finches, as they feasted from wild bird seed held by our vintage, rustic feeder from home.

DSC_0115 House finch & rustic feeder

Our local roadrunner passed by, so we threw out some breadcrumbs, but the roadrunner disappeared, probably because a hungry, young coyote was lurking nearby and soon made its bold appearance.  (Its mother made her appearance last month, resulting in the permanent disappearance of a chihuahua!)

DSC_0028 Agua Caliente coyote

Driven by hunger, this coyote came into our campsite, while keeping an eye on us and our dogs!  (Larry held corgi Tasha while I crouched and photographed by the rear of our truck.)

DSC_0038_2 Coyote eating crumbs

While hiking, I came across a more natural food for coyotes, a 3-inch Coyote melon, Curcurbita palmata, which when ripe, yields seeds that have been found in coyote scat.

DSC_0060 Coyote melon

At the beginning of my hike, I saw a new sign warning of recent mountain lion activity.  The rangers told me that around Christmas, a bighorn sheep carcass was found with marks and covered with sand consistent with a mountain lion attack near the seep area of Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Cameras were set up around the carcass for four nights, which turned this puma into a poster star!

DSC50 Moonlight Canyon mountain lion

More wildlife drama occurred the following day at camp when Larry spotted a white-winged dove dangling by its foot attached to the top of a  20-25-foot Agave deserti dead flower stalk by entangling string.

DSC106 White-winged dove entangled

DSC107 White-winged dove & familyLarry notified Camp Host Dan and Ranger Melinda.  Dan quickly arrived in his utility cart, assessed the situation, and returned with appropriate tools, such as a saw, large lopping shears, chainsaw chaps, and needle nose scissors and tweezers.  Since the stalk had already bloomed and died, it was permissible to cut it down in order to rescue this bird.  Dan donned the chaps to protect from nearby thorns and sawed three quarters into the trunk, while I supported it with the reacher.  He then supported the trunk as I made the final cut with the lopping shears.  We rested the stalk on the utility cart and Dan folded back the dove’s wings and calmed it while I cut the many threads that were wrapped around the foot, toes and branch.  Photos were then taken and the dove was released and flew off to our delight.  Camp Host Dan saved this bird’s life and is a star in my eyes!

DSC111 Camp Host Dan & dove

Larry and I celebrated the season each evening by turning on a string of LED light bulbs that Larry had covered with Mixed Pepper Light Covers, which was wrapped around a wreath of homegrown red trumpet vine encircling enameled laser-cut steel in the shape of the sun – our star given to us by friends!

DSC101 Holiday wreath, Mardis Gras colors

A wild beginning of the new year, yes, but I think everything will be OK because here comes the sun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Polar Safari Holiday Express

DSC_0043 Polar Safari Express arrives

The corgis and I were cozy and enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun rays streaming into our Airstream Safari trailer as Larry, bundled in a parka, was mesmerized by birds feeding by the Palo Verde tree and the changing glowing colors bathing Whale Mountain.  A windy, cold storm had just passed through and brought ice to our dogs’ water bowls.  (Baby, it was cold outside.)*

DSC_0107 Sunrise & wildlife gazing

I ventured outside just in time to hear Larry say in a low voice, “Bill… a coyote!”  I looked across the park road and saw a very healthy, well-fed looking, beautiful adult coyote staring at Larry.

DSC_0110 Adult coyote, Agua Caliente

The coyote then took a look at me and went down through the creosote bushes followed by an adolescent and two pups.  The next morning, word spread throughout the campground that someone’s Chihuahua was off leash, chased something near the Nature Trail, yelped and then disappeared, which illustrates why San Diego County Parks require dogs to be closely attended and on 6-foot leashes!

As the sun rose, our campsite warmed and more wildlife emerged, such as the Hairy woodpecker pecking on our Palo Verde.

DSC_0178 Hairy woodpecker on Palo Verde

We brought along our birdseed feeder, but forgot to bring the hummingbird feeder, so we made our own, a wire-suspended glass tumbler filled with nectar (1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of water) and topped with plastic flowers and a red piece of plastic that attracted the Anna’s hummingbird.

DSC_0361 Anna's hummingbird, rock tumbler

By late morning, the festive sun lit up our holiday table display.

DSC_0311 Winter holiday table

One of the items in this display is an Airstream-shaped pillow covered with a metallic silver lamé fabric that is now eight years old and shedding tiny silver particles that can be seen on the beaded palm tree trunk in the above and last photo of this post.  One of these silver specks landed in Larry’s eye, which resulted in a 4-hour visit to our local emergency room for removal upon our return to San Diego.  The pillow has now been retired!

Agua Caliente County Park had its own seasonal display in the form of Sweet Acacia, Acacia farnesiana, yellow flower puffs.

DSC_0293 Sweet Acacia, Agua Caliente

The days are now short and the nights have grown long but brightly lit up with our holiday lights.

DSC_0279 Camp night decorations

I especially enjoyed gazing in awe at the peaceful beauty of our hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah)…*

DSC_0255 Hanukkiah

… and thinking about what’s really important and beautiful in this world (real love).*  At this time of year, I also like to revisit the words and last sentence in Chris Van Allsburg’s book, The Polar Express,* “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

DSC_0303 "the bell still rings for me"

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

A desert homecoming

The “promising new site” mentioned a year ago in my article “Grazing and gazing at Agua Caliente” has become our desert home-away-from-home where we can set up camp and enjoy the desert in relative peace and quietness and hear the hum and chirping of hummingbirds* darting to our feeder or ravens circling and calling overhead.*

DSC_0265 Morning at Agua Caliente

One of the features of this site was a lush growth of Nerium oleander that provided beautiful flowers, windbreak and privacy that we cherish.

DSC_0095 Nerium oleander bloom

But, alas, a California State Park mandate required its removal because oleander is a non-native plant with toxic foliage that can have a negative impact on bighorn sheep that frequent the area (a temporary exemption was lifted on May 25, 2015).  “A single oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can cause death,” states former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent, Mark C. Jorgensen, in his book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2015, page 116.  So we were not surprised to find stumps instead of lush plants when we returned earlier this month…

DSC_0297 Oleander cut & poisoned

… and a lack of privacy (compare the photo below with those seen in my article noted above).

DSC_0261 Our site without oleander

Fortunately, we have very nice and friendly neighbors, so our celebration of the season and our return to the desert was not diminished!

DSC_0189 Holidays in the desert '15

Our day at Agua Caliente typically begins before the sun rises as ever-changing soft pastel colors of red, orange, and yellow bathe the nearby mountains.  The early morning is chilly, but Larry is already outside, enjoying this peaceful, magical moment as I crawl out of bed in a comfortable Airstream trailer kept toasty by a quiet and efficient Vornado AVH2 Whole Room Vortex Heater that can “heat an entire room without using intense heat and remain cool to the touch.”*  Larry hears me move about and comes to the door to take the dogs down their ramp for their morning walk.  (Corgis’ long backs make them prone to injury. Tasha has made a full recovery after her $6000 laminectomy for a ruptured spinal disc 2 years ago.)  I enjoy the moment by seeing and smelling freshly brewed coffee steam swirl about over the coffee filter as I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and then take time to savor the flavor of rich coffee and mellow out.*

DSC_0245 Early morning coffee

After morning chores (and eating homemade cookies and apple slices), I take the Nikon camera along for a hike.  I enjoy the textures of the desert…

DSC_0234 Desert textures

… and look for signs of wildlife, such as coyote scat…

DSC_0217 Fresh coyote scat

… and whatever else comes along…

DSC_0233 Ocotillo, cholla & barrel cactus

After a midday shower, I enjoy one of Larry’s delicious sandwiches, and sometimes a roadrunner* drops in.

DSC_0291 Roadrunner

The days are now short and it’s not long before the sun sets, the air chills and the splendor of a desert night sky reveals itself.*

DSC_0197 Under desert night sky

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Airstream into San Diego and beyond

San Diego region has year-round camping opportunities, excellent weather, and wonderful places to visit and, when coming here to do both, it’s good and more enjoyable to have a plan, a two-part plan.  Over the past eight years, we’ve enjoyed taking our Airstream Safari to our favorite San Diego beach, mountain, and desert camping spots, and while there, we frequently meet people new to the area who are interested in learning more about places to visit in the San Diego metropolitan area and where to stay while visiting friends and places there.

DSC_0268 Sail into San Diego

The first part of this suggested plan is to see the many attractions in the metropolitan San Diego area first, while staying at a nearby, local campground.  The second part is to move to your ideal camping location away from the city, where you can enjoy hiking, swimming or relaxing at a beachside, mountain, or desert campground, depending on the season.  To get your best camping locations and sites, it’s best to make your reservations as early as possible.  San Diego County’s Sweetwater Summit Regional Park is a good starting point because it is only 10 miles southeast of downtown San Diego and has 112 campsites and its Summit Campground has 63 new sites with full hookups.*  San Diego County Parks have a new look and feel.* The main advantage of this campground is that it’s just 20-25 minutes away from many local attractions such as the beaches, Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Sea Port Village, and Old Town.

While in the metropolitan area, you could bring your own lunch and have a happy time in Old Town.*

SAMSUNG CSC

(Above photo credit: Charlie Chul Jung)

Or visit San Diego’s beautiful and historic Balboa Park* and its many museums, such as theNAT and see its permanent exhibition, “Coast to Cactus”, featuring an Airstream trailer!* (Parking is available in the park or nearby areas, including the San Diego Zoo parking lot.)

DSC_0420 Desert night show in back

Checkout the flamingos and what’s new at the San Diego Zoo, such as the Asian Leopards Habitat with Catwalks.*

DSC_0055 San Diego Zoo

Visit Cabrillo National Monument* with its Old Point Loma Lighthouse, hiking trails and tide pools.

HPIM2313 Old Pt Loma Lighthouse

Or take a 45-minute drive north to explore San Diego Zoo Safari Park* (formerly named San Diego Wild Animal Park).

DSC_0266 San Deigo Zoo Safari Park

After visiting the local San Diego attractions, you can then move to your preferred beach, mountain, or desert campground that you reserved ahead of time.  During the summer, the coolest place to enjoy camping is one of our California State beach campgrounds, such as South Carlsbad State Beach.  It is very popular and reservations for beachside camping often need to be made months in advance.  Our favorite time to go is in May before the summer crowds.

DSC_0013 South Carlsbad State Beach

Our favorite fall and spring campground is William Heise County Park in the mountains near Julian, California.  We prefer the wooded, non-hookup sites in Area 2.  Dogs on a leash are permitted on the scenic trails.

DSC_0089 Wm Heise County Park

The desert is a great place to camp during the late fall, winter and early spring months.  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park* is popular because of the resources of the nearby town of Borrego Springs.

DSC_0278 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Our favorite desert campground is Agua Caliente County Park because there is less traffic and it is not so crowded, especially during the weekdays.  It has a therapeutic spa and pools, but dogs are not allowed on trails.

DSC_0084 Our new campsite

Explore San Diego, where every day is a new adventure!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

It’s cooking up in the desert, again!

Earlier this month, we enjoyed sunny days and moderate temperatures while we celebrated the Lantern Festival and the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations.  We spent relaxing cool evenings, sitting outside stargazing while the Full Worm Moon brilliantly lit up our Airstream Safari trailer and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0290 Under full moon & stars

I enjoyed rich coffee, cake and reading material in the mornings before going on hikes.  I was hoping to photograph once more the elusive bighorn sheep, especially since this is the Year of the Sheep.*

DSC_0208 Morning coffee & cake

As I started my hike, the first flower that I saw was nearby our campsite.

DSC_0056 Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus, Opuntia basilaris

I then got on the Moonlight Canyon Trail where I had photographed bighorn sheep last December.

DSC_0113 Moonlight Canyon Trail

That morning, the granite walls were still cold from the chilly, desert night air and I was greeted by soothing, cool air as I entered the trail from the east.

As I hiked over the trail’s saddle, I spotted a blooming barrel cactus in front of ocotillo (Whale Mountain is seen in the background).

DSC_0142 California barrel cactus

California barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus

The next morning, I hiked up the Desert Overlook Trail to get current photos of Agua Caliente County Park.

DSC_0225 Agua Caliente County Park

I was especially interested in getting an updated, overhead view of the camping loop where our original, favorite campsite and eleven other RV sites were displaced by seven cabins, which I documented in “Cabinization of our parks.”  Each cabin has an array of solar panels and the camping fee is currently $70 per night.  They are typically all occupied on weekends.

DSC_0233 7 cabins displaced 12 RV sites

Each evening Larry prepared gustatory delights, such as deep-fried Szechuan pepper-salt calamari rings, Japanese eggplant and Mexican zucchini.

DSC_0268 Deep-frying calamari rings

DSC_0275-2 Fried calamari rings & squash

The desert is also cooking up, with temperatures currently 90°, so we won’t be back here until next fall.

DSC_0105 Our Agua Caliente campsite

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the mountains next month.  See our garden blooms in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” in my new blog, History Safari Expresso, while enjoying a rich cup of coffee or espresso.*

*This is a YouTube video.