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 it 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.  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 its taste 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.*


(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.

Fenghuang flies over the desert

Yet another storm was bringing snow to the East Coast as we were enjoying sunny days, temperatures in the 70s, and the Full Worm Moon* over the Anza-Borrego Desert at the beginning of March.  We did have a brief shower on our first day and snow fell on the Laguna Mountains that we had passed over the day before.  The passing storm brought ghostly cloud formations.

DSC_0005 Passing winter storm

DSC_0026 Clouds over Tierra Blanca Mts

We also continued celebrating the Lunar New Year,* the Year of the Wood Sheep, that began on the new moon, February 19, and continued until the arrival of the full moon and Lantern Festival on March 5.  For the occasion, Larry made an Almond Bundt Cake with a Chinese figurine centerpiece symbolizing the Year of the Sheep.*

DSC_0078 Almond Bundt Cake

A Chinese dragon is seen in the image above and traditionally symbolizes auspicious powers, strength, and good luck.  The predominant color used in Lunar New Year celebrations is red, symbolizing joy, virtue, truth, sincerity, and prosperity.  Larry decorated our campsite with festive symbols and colors that included a flying Chinese dragon that we call Fenghuang.

DSC_0178 Flying Chinese dragon

Our Fenghuang has a dragon head chasing the mystical flaming pearl of wisdom and truth, Chinese phoenix wings, and carp scales and tail (In Chinese mythology, carp that can leap the Yellow River falls are transformed into dragons* and fly off into the sky). Fenghuang symbolizes the union of yin and yang.  It also symbolizes high virtue and grace, and is the name we gave to our rig (“feng” is male, our F-250 tow vehicle, and “huang” is female, our Airstream Safari trailer).

Larry also prepared Chinese dishes such as dim sum* shrimp and pork pot stickers.

DSC_0171 Larry making pot stickers

The pot stickers were made and then fried and steamed.

DSC_0191 frying & steaming pot stickers

DSC_0182 Pot stickers

We celebrated the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations by hanging Chinese paper lanterns that my late father gave us over twenty years ago (last month we celebrated our 44th anniversary of being together)!

DSC_0339 Chinese paper lanterns

As the full moon appeared on the desert horizon, we placed flickering LED tea candles in the lanterns.

DSC_0369 Lit Chinese paper lanterns

Friends joined us for this joyful and magical moment as we watched the moon rise and the lanterns gently sway in the breeze on this Lantern Festival night.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert Snow Moon and King’s Cake

New Englanders were digging out from a major snow storm and Punxsutawney Phil* was eying his shadow and predicting six more weeks of winter, while we were enjoying balmy weather, festive night skies, and the Full Snow Moon* over the Anza-Borrego Desert at the beginning of February.

DSC_0054 Snow Moon over Anza-Borrego

We also continued celebrating the 2015 Mardi Gras season* and so we continued the tradition that we began last month of bringing along King’s Cake.  This time Larry made cinnamon roll King’s Cake* with craisins, walnuts, and a hidden baby that added to the fun.  It was charged with the light of the Full Snow Moon, along with our Black Diamond Apollo Lanterns, now softened by Larry’s custom made shades using beaded fringe tape suspended from inverted baskets, which has whimsical movements in the breeze and provides fun shadows.

DSC_0014 Charging King's Cake

The cake was topped with white glaze sprinkled with sanding sugar* in Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green.

DSC_0038 Cinnamon King's Cake

A slice of this rich cake, along with a cup of French roast coffee, made for a good start for my early morning hike on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Recent sprinkles here brought new green leaves to ocotillo and brittlebush plants, but flowers are not yet plentiful due to the ongoing California drought. Nevertheless, this canyon trail always presents spectacular sights, such as golden cholla on canyon rims, piercing dark blue skies.*

DSC_0067 Moonlight Canyon Cholla

After seeing the beauty of the canyon, I returned to camp and spotted an eyesore of long ago discarded trash, partially covered in sand.  I lifted the items up and discovered that they provided a home for a large Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus anzaborrego, that I quickly photographed before taking the trash to the dumpster.  The scorpion held its tail with sting and venom-injecting barb up high and quickly found a new home in the nearby rock wall.

DSC_0075 Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion

Scorpions are nocturnal and emerge at night to hunt and feed, just about the time I am outside in flip-flops doing night photography, such as of the nearby rock wall with a large Catclaw Acacia in moonlight.  A Chinese I-Ching coin wind chime is on a branch and reminds us that Chinese New Year starts February 19.

DSC_0026 Acacia and rock wall

We thoroughly enjoy our desert home away from home and the beautiful view of Whale Mountain at sunset… even Howdy Doody seems particularly happy here, and I can imagine him singing, “Home on the Range“.*

DSC_0089 Howdy Doody at sunset

*This is a link to a YouTube video.