Springtime in Galleta Meadows

After a turbulent and stormy winter, we returned to the desert to see the beginning of the spring wildflower season in Borrego Springs, California.  Snow could still be seen on a distant mountaintop as flowers bloomed after a series of desert rains.

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dsc_0067-galleta-meadows-estate.jpgThe tortoise seen above is one of many free standing, steel welded art structures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda for Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs.

This ‘Sky Art’ depicts vertebrates of the past, which inhabited the Anza-Borrego region during the Pliocene-Pleistocene and Miocene eras.

This Galleta Meadows Estate plaque points out the historic nature of this site in the area of the expeditionary territory through which the first overland route to San Francisco Bay was established by Juan Bautista de Anza with the help of Cochimí Indian guide, Sebastián Tarabal, on March 14, 1774.

An Indian chief, friar and farm workers are also represented in Breceda’s art structures.

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A wild pig and suckling piglets are seen standing and almost obscured by the non-native and invasive Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii).

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The Saharan Mustard is now destroying or inhibiting wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Although plants in general are protected in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza-Borrego Foundation trains volunteers in the removal of the Saharan Mustard.  We saw volunteers removing these plants from along Henderson Canyon Road and Borrego Palm Canyon areas.  Without their efforts, the vast carpet of spring wildflowers typically seen in Henderson Canyon may disappear.

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The Saharan Mustard is also invading Galleta Meadows and obscuring the art structures such as the Big Horn Sheep.

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Rams clash as the battle of native and non-native plants looms.

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Larry was caught up in the action… and by this raptor.

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I’ve Got a Crush on You” (… Tasha).

Desert coyotes

We camped in a desert oasis that is supplied with water at various times by rainwater draining from the Sawtooth Mountains via the Potrero Wash.  While hiking this wash, I saw many wild animal tracks in the sand, including those of the coyote. (a Naturebytes video).

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The coyote (click here to see photo), Canis latrans, the “barking dog”, is a member of the Canidae (dog) family, has an average weight range of 15-46 pounds, and is found throughout North and Central America.  The name “coyote” is a loanword from American Spanish and is derived from the Nahuatl word cóyotl, meaning “prairie wolf”.  The coyote, known as “the song dog” by Native American Indians, often appears in Native American Indian tradition and folklore and is often portrayed as the trickster (and survivor).

The coyote is a very adaptable, wide-ranging predator with an excellent sense of smell, vision and hearing, and hunts alone, in pairs, or in packs.  Each night at sunset, we heard the first calls of the coyotes, high-pitched sounds variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks, most often heard at dusk and at night.

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We closed the trailer windows against the approaching chilly night air, fed the dogs and got them inside before they could become dinner for the coyotes.  Coyotes have been known to attack pets and livestock.  We also secured trash and food containers with lids and weights (rocks).

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The coyotes usually waited well into the night, when our trailer was silent, before exploring our campsite.  We could tell that they had visited.  Sometimes we could hear their sounds right next to the trailer.  By morning, the dog’s water bowl was empty and marked with coyote urine.  Nearby was a fresh pile of coyote scat, consisting mostly of mesquite beans, which are plentiful at this oasis.

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Coyotes are opportunistic and eat what is available, including the Back-tailed Jackrabbit

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and Gambel’s Quail (named after William Gambel, an American naturalist, who died of typhoid while crossing the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1849).  They inhabit and roost in brushy and thorny vegetation of southwestern deserts.

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The coyote’s adaptability has helped it to survive the encroachment of “civilization” and has led to its success as a native North American species.  Coyotes are now thriving, even in suburban settings and some urban ones, and causing alarm and unease.  Coyotes are causing flight delays at some airports.  Two recent incidents of coyotes biting people at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, prompted the authorization to kill coyotes, resulting in the death of eight coyotes and a public outcry.

Environmentalists believe that coyotes are necessary to maintain the balance of nature (for example, coyotes help control rodents and feral cats).  The coyote is a persecuted predator, according to Project Coyote, founded in 2008 “to create a shift in attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding and appreciation”.

Project Wildlife says that humans need to learn to coexist with coyotes.  Griffith Park is now taking a more positive approach by posting ‘Do Not Feed The Wildlife’ signsAdditional information on the coyote and protecting yourself and your pets is found in these Frequently Asked Questions, presented by DesertUSA.com and in this video.

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Coyote sounds * enhance our desert experience and I always look forward to hearing them, just as I enjoy listening to Peter and the Wolf * at this time of year.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Our National Parks

A new film by Ken Burns, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea“, will be presented by PBS in six episodes starting Sunday, September 27, at 8 pm Eastern Time. Filmed over a course of more than six years, this series will show some of the most beautiful places in our country, at the best time of year, in the best light, along with the history of our national parks, people who made a difference, and park profiles.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is directed by Ken Burns and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan.

See a behind the scenes tour of this new Ken Burns series, “The National Parks”, in this PBS Preview.

Ken Burns points out that the concept of a national park is an American idea and ideal, and that Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, is arguably the world’s first truly national park.  Our national parks are living symbols of democracy, and are special places of discovery and inspiration, building human happiness, and should be preserved for all people to enjoy (not just for royalty or the rich).

Talking about national parks and monuments, President Theodore Roosevelt is quoted in the film as saying, “It is the preservation of the scenery, of the forests and the wilderness game for the people as a whole.  Instead of leaving the enjoyment thereof to be confined to the very rich, it is noteworthy in its essential democracy, one of the best bits of national achievement, which our people have to their credit.  And our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children, and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

On June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Antiquities Act of 1906, giving the President of the United States authority to restrict use of particular land owned by the federal government by executive order, bypassing Congressional oversight, and avoiding partisan gridlock.  The Antiquities Act resulted from concerns arising about protecting mostly prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts.  The intent is to allow the President to set aside and protect certain valuable public natural areas as park and conservation lands, which are given the title of “National Monuments“.

The first declared United States National Monument was Devils Tower, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Devils Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion or volcanic rock in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming.  Native American tribes including the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith long before European and early American immigrants reached Wyoming.  More than 48% of land in Wyoming is now owned by the United States Government (as noted in Wikipedia’s article, “Wyoming“).

On January 11, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt (struggling against mining interests) proclaimed more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a National Monument (it was declared a National Park on February 26, 1919).  This is an example of an early success of the environmental conservation movement, which may have helped to thwart proposals to dam the Colorado River within its boundaries.

On October 14, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson created Cabrillo National Monument, which is located on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego, California, and commemorates the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

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At the highest point in the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which became operational in 1855.

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People come from all over the world to enjoy the views of the region’s mountains, San Diego harbor, Pacific Ocean, Mexico and the Coronado Islands.  Pacific gray whales can be seen migrating from late December to early February.  Cabrillo National Monument contains one of the finest (and protected) rocky intertidal areas (tide pools) on the southern California coast and is one of the last refuges of coastal sage scrub habitat.

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Ken Burns film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, also highlights other heroes who have made a difference in preserving our natural resources and wilderness areas, such as Stephen Mather (first director of the National Park Service, which was established by the National Park Service Organic Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916),  John Muir (naturalist, author, early advocate of the preservation of the wilderness, and founder and first president of the Sierra Club), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Civilian Conservation Corps, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (friend of the Everglades), William Gladstone Steel (“father of Crater Lake”), and George Melendez Wright (National Park Service naturalist).

George Melendez Wright was noted as saying, “Our national heritage is richer than just scenic features… perhaps our greatest national heritage is nature itself, with all of its complexity and its abundance of life”.  See this wonderful video clip on George Melendez Wright.

The most recent national monument was designated by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009: The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  The Marianas trench reefs and waters (95,216 square miles) are among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific and include the greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered.  The Mariana trench is the deepest point on Earth and five times longer than the Grand Canyon.

Our national parks and monuments are our national treasures that bring us happiness and a sense of well-being…  a sense of comfort, like going home… and like a home, they need to be protected, restored (including restoration of native species), maintained and kept functioning for all to enjoy for all time.

See one more video selection from this new, beautiful mini-series, along with a moving interview of documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, shown in this clip from The Rachel Maddow Show of September 24, 2009.

Airstream and Earth Day

In 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed a national environment event which led to the first Earth Day observance on April 22, 1970. It is now viewed as a worldwide effort to promote the health and protection of our global environment and resources.

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Forty-three years earlier, William Hawley Bowlus supervised the construction of Charles Lindbergh’s plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, at Ryan Airline Company in San Diego in 1927. In 1934, he applied aircraft monocoque construction techniques and used Duraluminum in making a streamlined travel trailer, the Road Chief. Two years later, a salesman for the Bowlus-Teller Mfg. Company, Wally Byam, bought the company, founded Airstream, and made their first trailer, the Airstream Clipper, based on the Road Chief.

The sleek, streamline design of Airstream trailers now seems to be a timeless icon of natural beauty in form and function that works well with the environment rather than against it. The Airstream’s shiny exterior reflects the gleaming sun, sky, and natural beauty wherever we take it. Its low profile design also means that it helps us be more fuel efficient when towing, as well as safer in wind-advisory conditions.

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The Airstream trailer enables us to experience a variety of terrains and get close to the natural beauty of our planet Earth. It also reinforces good conservation efforts and habits as we learn to be frugal in the use of the trailer’s supply of water, propane and electricity. Airstream also inspires us just by being visible through our living room window.

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It motivates us to maintain and conserve what we already have (the greenest building is one that is already built), as well as to add additional alternative energy systems such as solar and wind power technology.

Airstream energizes us to observe, celebrate and live Earth Day, every day. Earth Day activates us to become more aware of environmental concerns and current issues. One issue is the threat to our local, state and national parks due to budget cuts during the downturn of our economy; California and Arizona are two good examples.

For more information on Earth Day and keeping current on green issues, check out some of these links: earth911.org, epa.gov/earthday, treehugger.com, and if you have a cat, see naturesearth.com. Then get your favorite beverage, sit back and enjoy music to celebrate Earth Day.

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Happy Earth Day (and Happy Birthday Emma)!