Springing into action at Agua Caliente

Our rooster crowed, “Awake,” and we heard his call to action and proudly flew the flag of the United States,* along with the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality flag at Agua Caliente County Park in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0279 Agua Caliente County Park

Like Canada geese, Bert and Janie finally, after unexpected surgeries, winged their way south from Montana to milder climes and spent the day chatting, hiking, and feasting.

DSC_0109 Bert & Janie, Larry & Bill

The following day, we drove up to Borrego Springs and visited our Airstream friends Bob and Theresa at their beautiful home.  Ten years ago, we took our 2007 Airstream Safari on its maiden cruise and followed Bob and Theresa in their Airstream Classic to our first trailer camping experience in Borrego Springs, California!  Over the years, Bert, Janie, Bob, and Theresa have joined us for desert hiking and feasting!

DSC_0237 Bob & Theresa, Bill & Larry

My breakfasts consisted of Larry’s homemade pumpkin bread, cool apple and orange slices, and reading material.  He calls it Hagrid’s pumpkin bread because it’s made from a pumpkin similar to those seen just outside Hagrid’s hut in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  These large and unusually shaped pumpkins are called Mexican Sweet Pumpkins (Calabaza de Castilla), that he bought at local Latino markets, poached and made into pumpkin bread (pan de calabaza).*

DSC_0040 Breakfast & HRC leaflet

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open,* honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.  HRC’s Buyers Guide helps consumers to find and choose businesses committed to workplace equality before making purchases.

After breakfast, Larry donned a plague doctor mask that I have worn at Renaissance faires (and while camping in the forest) in preparation for a surprise visit to the park’s supervising ranger.

DSC_0049 Larry as plague doctor

“Yo soy el doctor de la peste,* and I’ve brought Hagrid’s pumpkin bread as nourishment to feign off the plague.”

DSC_0058 Pumpkin bread for Maggie Tull

Agua Caliente County Park Supervisor Maggie was delighted to receive Larry and his pumpkin bread and happily shared it with the staff!  We returned to our campsite and Larry continued on his sewing projects…

DSC_0271 Project time for Larry

DSC_0072 Larry sewing HRC appliques

while becoming energized and redirecting energy toward positive change as we both stand indivisible…*

DSC_0032 Y'all means all (HRC shirt)!

Because y’all means all.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Haunting echoes of Moonlight Canyon

Delayed by unexpected surgeries, writer/outdoor photographer/Airstreamer/snowbird Bert Gildart and Janie finally arrived in the warmer climes of California’s Anza-Borrego Desert to enjoy hiking, biking and overall renewal.  Last week they visited us at Agua Caliente County Park and Bert couldn’t wait to put on a camera backpack and carry a tripod onto the Moonlight Canyon Trail where he has photographed bighorn sheep.

DSC_0124 Bert Gildart in Moonlight Canyon

We entered the canyon from the east where its shady, steep granite walls hold onto the night cold, so a ways in, Bert enjoyed sitting on a boulder and soaking in the warm rays of the rising sun (to drive the cold winter away).*

DSC_0134 Chasing the chill away

A few moments later, Bert forged ahead and set the pace, while looking for suitable subjects to photograph, saying, “When I choose to photograph something, I like it to be better than the ones I have previously photographed.”

DSC_0197 Bert on the hunt

As we rose out of the canyon, the trail became steeper and the sides were lined with granite detritus as we stumbled upon elusive Ghost Flowers that thrive on gravely slopes and sandy washes.  The pale cream flower is translucent, sometimes hard to see, and is the basis of its name.

DSC_0198 Ghost Flowers on Moonlight Canyon Trail

Bert and I quickly went to work photographing this treasure trove of Ghost Flowers.  The last time I saw these flowers here was 6 years ago!

DSC_0203 Bert shoots Ghost flowers

Bert scrambled up loose granite to get another shot.

DSC_0219 Shooting ghost on sliding granite

Upon finding a suitable subject, Bert got serious and set up his tripod.

DSC_0186 Bert's Nikon on tripod, Ghost shot

He asked me to pull out two hand-held strobes from his backpack and showed me where to hold one of them as he held the other and took the picture.  Bert explained he sets the camera’s shutter speed to 250th of a second (which makes the flowers look motionless, even in a breeze) and sets the aperture at f/32 for maximum depth of field.  The two hand-held strobes, overwhelm ambient light and produce a dark or black background (Photographic artistry of Bert Gildart).  See Bert’s article and photos in his March 8 posting, “Ghost Flower.”

DSC_0179 Bert uses hand-held strobe

The Ghost Flower, Mohavea confertiflora, has 5 ragged-edged lobes with maroon speckles and a maroon blotch at the base (Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers).  These marks resemble the female bee Xeralictus and operate as floral mimicry (sign stimulus) to the male bee, which enters the flower and pollinates the Mohavea (Wikipedia).  (Below are my Nikon D40 images.)

DSC_0154 Ghost Flower, Mohavea confertiflora

DSC_0191 Ghost Flowers, Moonlight Canyon

Visiting these Ghost Flowers renewed our spirits and strengthened our bodies.  Thich Nhat Hanh reflects this in his meditation “Flower Fresh.”*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Happiness in the cool mountains

California desert temperatures are now routinely in the nineties and above, so we and our Airstream Safari chilled out in the oak, pine, and cedar forests in William Heise County Park, 4200 feet above sea level, in the Laguna Mountains that intercept clouds and rain that would otherwise reach the desert areas.

DSC_0009 Wm. Heise Co

Daytime mountain temperatures were in the seventies and we made a point of closing the windows well before sundown to keep the trailer cozy during the evenings, but each morning, we woke to trailer temperatures in the fifties.  Since we were doing non-hookup camping here, we routinely turned on our Mr. Heater Portable Buddy at 5:45am and ran it for two hours, which brought the temperature up to 68-70 degrees.  By then, sun was streaming into the trailer as I savored hot coffee, NPR’s Morning Edition,* and summer reading.

DSC_0028 Coffee and summer reading

By the afternoon, sun was illuminating our homegrown Alstroemeria flowers on the other side of the trailer and had restored our Lifeline AGM batteries back to 100% via our two factory installed solar panels by mid-morning.

DSC_0057 Vista view & Alstroemeria

Mule deer and wild turkeys reside here, along with a plethora of wildlife, which quickly accepted us as part of the local milieu to the extent that at times we felt like we were in a Bambi movie.*

DSC_0153 "Luna Gobblegood" turkey

DSC_0054 Spotted towhee

DSC_0147-2 Acorn woodpecker

Spotted towhee (left),  Acorn woodpecker (right),  Merriam’s chipmunk (lower left) and Steller’s Jay (lower right)

DSC_0253 Merriam's chipmunkDSC_0043 Steller's jay

The goldspotted oak borer* continues to kill trees, which are cut down and its chips provide a natural mulch.

DSC_0075 Larry, Mac & Tasha on chips

As long as dogs are on 6′ leashes, they are permitted on trails here and our corgis love hiking on the Cedar Trail with its lovely oak and cedar trees and benches.

DSC_0081 Bench on Cedar Trail

During our 5-day stay, we had time to work on projects. Larry is seen below making one of four mid-19th century shirts (based on Saundra Ros Altman’s: Past Patterns, #10) for my work at a historic house museum.

DSC_0194 Larry making period shirt

DSC_0197 Larry's sewing (close-up)

DSC_0172 Larry's outfit for Howdy Doody

 

DSC_0404 Wm dressed for Whaley House

Three years ago, Larry made a new outfit for my Howdy Doody doll that I had as a child.  (The Howdy Doody show started the year I was born, 1947.)

Just before our trip here, I learned that Robert Y. Allen was the creator of the famed Howdy Doody face, was known as “Grandpa Bob” in the nearby town of Julian, died at the age of 99, and is buried in Julian’s Pioneer Cemetery.  So I brought Howdy Doody to pay his respects to Robert Allen on May 19, the anniversary of his death.  His grave marker is just a few steps away from Marshal South’s grave.

DSC_0208 Howdy visits Robert Allen's gravesite

With happiness in our hearts, we returned to camp with one of Julian’s famous apple pies* and celebrated life in the cool mountains and time with Howdy Doody.*

DSC_0246 Bill, Howdy & Julian apple pie

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert bighorn sheep – Part 2

The obvious feature of the desert bighorn sheep is its big horns.  Rams have the largest horns, which are curled and weigh up to 30 pounds (including the skull, according to Mark Jorgensen, in his book and slideshow, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon*), and become especially important in dominance rituals* during mating season.

DSC_0259 Resting ram & annular rings)

DSC_0263 Resting ram (2)

The ewes have smaller, spike-like horns that help protect themselves from predators such as coyotes.

DSC_0244 Ram and ewe

DSC_0290 Desert bighorn ewes

Mark writes (page 73) that ewes use their horns to strike other ewes in competition for food and water, and that they also use their horns to expose the fleshy fruit of cactus, which is then picked out by their lips.

DSC_0140 Cactus chewed by bighorn sheep

Agua Caliente Regional Park was once occupied by residents that planted oleander for its durability, flowers, windbreak and privacy features.  Unfortunately, this non-native plant is toxic and one oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can be deadly (page 116).  Efforts are underway by the State of California to eradicate oleander from Agua Caliente County Park within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The plants were cut down and chemicals applied to the stumps, but last month we spotted an oleander regrowing at Agua Caliente site #80.

DSC_0068 Oleander poisonous to bighhorn sheep

Peninsular bighorn sheep were listed as an endangered species in 1998 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife now monitors their recovery* by briefly capturing, testing, counting, radio-collaring and tagging sheep.

DSC_0301 Desert bighorn sheep close-up

While the sheep socialized, I imagined them “talking” to each other, but according to Mark, the lip curl (seen below) is actually the ram’s testing of the hormonal levels and receptivity of the ewe (page 77).

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep lip curl

DSC_0302 Large horns on rams

Not only did the sheep appear contented, I was definitely contented and feelin’ groovy* with our special time together and am looking forward to the next meeting when our camping season in the desert resumes next fall.

DSC_0284 Contented ram

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert dreams of rain and flowers

I woke up from my dreams to grab my Nikon camera to catch the sun before it bore down on the Airstream Safari trailer, flowers, and bighorn sheep, as a heat wave broke over the San Diego area.

DSC_0307 Heat before sunrise

It was already warm even before the sun pierced the horizon of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0321 Burning desert sunrise

Ocotillo leaves and flowers were shriveling up while back at camp, the trailer was making a valiant effort to keep cool by flying its sails and having all windows and vents open and numerous fans running. (See “Desert heat“)

DSC_0149 Airstream sails flying

By early morning an important decision was made to close up the Safari and turn on the air conditioning for our and our corgis’ safety and comfort.  Dogs can get hyperthermia easily as we found out when our corgi Tasha vomited several times late one afternoon, but quickly recovered the next day (See signs of heat exhaustion).

DSC_0010 Larry acesses desert heat

Before it got too hot, we chatted with our neighbors, Bev and George, who were thrilled to see a mother quail and four chicks again this spring (as they had in previous years).

DSC_0446 Quail and 4 chicks

George delighted in showing me the Desert Willow,* Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata, flowers frequented by hummingbirds.

DSC_0015 George & Desert Willow

DSC_0083 Desert Willow flower

The spring desert wildflower season is now winding down, but the Desert Agave, Agave deserti, looked triumphant with its yellow flowers on tall spikes, as I hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail.*

DSC_0051 Desert Agave flowers

Although bighorn sheep are known to eat agave and other cacti such as hedgehog cactus, they seem to prefer to eat softer textured plants when available.  As the desert vegetation begins to dry up, the bighorn sheep have been seen coming down off the nearby protective mountains and hills in search of food near the campsites.

DSC_0195 Bighorn sheep grazing in campground

After their campground picnic,* they retreated to a nearby hill to rest and talk.

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep resting

As I gently, quietly, and slowly approached, some of them seemed to recognize me from my first closeup encounter with them five years ago.  The 14 sheep in this herd, positioned themselves to detect danger from any direction, yet seemed perfectly relaxed during my 40-minute photo shoot.

Agua Caliente Bighorn sheep herd (14)

For me, it was like a dream… and a fitting way to say “Goodbye” until we return next season when the cooler air, rains, and flowers return.  I waved to them as I left them to dream of rain and flowers in the desert sand.*

DSC_0111 Red Torch Cactus

Red Torch Cactus, Echinopsis huascha  (Near Agua Caliente Regional Park Entrance Station)

*This is a YouTube video.