Happiness in the blooming desert

Happiness is spreading in the Anza-Borrego Desert along with the wildflowers*, so we returned to our desert home away from home and were greeted by abundant sunshine, flowers and friends, such as Ann from historic Julian, California,* who gave us a beautiful display of poet’s daffodils,* Narcissus poeticus in a mason jar before returning home.  Julian’s daffodil lady, Sally Snipes, began planting bulbs to honor her father in 1990, and now millions bloom every March.  We’ll return here with our Airstream Safari in May.

DSC_0284:3 Narcissus poeticus

We arrived in Agua Caliente County Park* on the first day of spring, the spring equinox,* and enjoyed the longer daylight to set up camp, while bathed with warm, early evening breezes and a waxing moon.  Three evenings later, the Full Worm Moon* rose, along with a penumbral eclipse.*

DSC_0198 Full Worm Moon 2016

A happy sun looked down upon hamantaschen* that I made and brought from home to celebrate Purim.*

DSC_0016 Hamantaschen for Purim

Like all days of celebration, Purim is a wonderful time to get together with friends, so we visited Bert and Janie (and their Classic Airstream trailer) in Borrego Springs and shared cha siu bao* and hamantaschen.

DSC_0192 Bert, Janie, Larry & Bill

Most of our time in the desert was spent exploring and admiring the Anza-Borrego spring flowers.  Larry found a coyote gourd.*

DSC_0021 Larry & coyote gourd

A nearby palo verde tree, Parkinsonia florida, was exploding with yellow flowers that peaked during our stay!

DSC_0131 Flowering palo verde

Also nearby, was a wash where Larry was thrilled to find a large mound of Krameria bicolor, aka Krameria grayi, in full bloom.  The close-up shows the flowers and its barbed fruit.

DSC_0114 Krameria grayi bush

DSC_0116 Krameria grayi flowers

Nearby this Krameria were two clumps of strawberry hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, with profuse blooms that closed at night and opened during the day. (See Bert Gildart’s “Botanical Adaptions to the Desert“.)

DSC_0100 Hedgehog cactus cluster

DSC_0147 Hedgehog cactus flowers

Also making the point in the area is Gander’s Cholla, Cilindropuntia ganderi.

DSC_0157 Gander cholla

And when the sun set, the moon bloomed and the stars danced with happiness!*

DSC_0216 Night stars and moonlight

*This is a YouTube video.

Monkey business under the Hunger Moon

The Hunger Moon* was rising as we unhitched our Airstream Safari in the California desert, which marked the conclusion of the 15-day celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey.*

DSC_0038 Hunger Moon 2016

This moon is also called the Snow Moon* because it usually occurs during the snowiest month of the year, but in San Diego, we just had the hottest February since records began in 1874.  Here in the desert, we experienced comfortably warm, sunny days, and cool, clear nights that were perfect for celebrating the Chinese Lantern Festival* as we did last year at this site, except this time, we suspended a large paper Chinese lantern with string attached to a long bamboo stick from our garden.

DSC_0049 Chinese Lantern Festival Full Moon

Evening breezes made low light photography of this large paper Chinese lantern challenging until I held on to it…

DSC_0079 Lantern festival celebrator

while our Chinese lucky lion* looked on and laughed (perhaps regarding the Year of the Monkey political predictions)!

DSC_0065 Chinese lantern festival lion

The Chinese New Year* is also known as the Spring Festival,* and this year, it felt like spring arrived early at our campsite, especially with freshly cut Freesia flowers that Larry brought from home.

DSC_0007 Spring Year of the Monkey

Larry also brought a pork and mushroom mixture that was placed in dumpling wrappers to make siu mai,* which were then steamed.

DSC_0121 Larry making siu mai

DSC_0131 Pork mushroom siu mai

Recent rain and warmer temperatures have brought new growth and flowers to Agua Caliente’s Moonlight Canyon flora.

DSC_0097 Moonlight Canyon

Swaths of red were seen across the desert due to prolific chuparosa, Justicia californica, blooms.

DSC_0106 Agua Caliente chuparosa

And a beautiful and fragrant Cattleya bloom greeted us upon arrival home and seemed to announce the arrival of spring!

DSC_0191 Cattleya (at home)

“Winter is gone, the mountains are clear, and water sparkles… Spring comes, birds sing, and flowers fragrant.” (A Chinese Spring Festival – New Year’s couplet,* Chun lian.)

*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.

Summer spiders, flowers, stir-fry and Sonoran hot dogs

As our Airstream Safari rested between camping seasons, an orb-weaving spider spun a sticky, spiral-wheel shaped web* attached to the trailer’s rock guard and waited for the capture of its next prey.*

DSC_0013-2 Orb-weaver spider

On the eve of summer solstice, our night-blooming Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) produced six blooms by our outdoor kitchen (See “A night-blooming interlude“, History Safari Expresso).

DSC_0487 Cereus & outdoor kitchen

Under the Full Buck Moon,* our pitahaya (Hylocereus undatus) sent up into the heavens its first spectacular bloom over the patio pergola (See “A pitahaya summer interlude,” History Safari Expresso).

DSC_0025 Pitahaya bloom 2015

Under the pergola, Larry stir-fried meat, then vegetables, in a wok over a 250,000 BTU burner and then tossed them with pan-fried Cantonese-style egg noodles that were golden “brown, firm and crispy on the outside, and yellow, moist and soft on the inside, a combination of texture that is classically Chinese.** (See “How to make chow mein with Ken Hom“.*)

DSC_0032 Stir-frying in patio kitchen

For my turn in our outdoor kitchen, I made my version of the Sonoran hot dog, based on a recipe adapted from Robb Walsh’s The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook.

DSC_0048 Sonoran hot dog prep

A Sonoran-style hot dog is a grilled bacon-wrapped hot dog placed in a toasted bolillo (Mexican-style bun) and topped with your favorite condiments.  I prepared bowls of chopped tomato, onion, avocado, grated cheese, refried beans, and fresh salsa verde (made by Larry).

DSC_0049 Sonoran hot dog prep 2

The grill was fired up and the dogs were cooked until the bacon was crispy (about 7 minutes).

DSC_0054 Cooking Sonoran hot dogs

The bolillos were toasted and the pocket was lined with refried beans, avocado and cheese.  The cooked dog was placed inside and topped with chopped onions, tomatoes, salsa verde and squiggles of a blend of mayo, Tabasco, and lime (or lemon) juice.

DSC_0059 Hotdog drizzled with mayo-blend

Earlier this month, The Huffington Post said, “Make Sonoran Hot Dogs, And You’ll Never Go Back.”  The history of the Sonoran hot dog can be traced from Hermosillo, Sonora, to New York, Los Angeles, and Tucson.  Perhaps TBM has earned enough dietary credits to do another Tucson Sonoran Hot Dog test!

DSC_0057 Fiesta in a bun

The Sonoran hot dog is truly a fiesta on a bun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

**Asian Vegetarian Feast: Tempting Vegetable And Pasta Recipes From The East, Ken Hom, William Morrow and Company, New York, 1988, p. 150-151.

Author’s note: For additional visual delights, see “A Peruvian Apple Cactus interlude,” History Safari Expresso.

Catfish by the sea, again

For the past eight years, we’ve rounded out our camping season by unhitching our Airstream Safari trailer on the bluffs of South Carlsbad State Beach.  Reservations for the popular beach side campsites need to be made up to  6 months in advance.  Our favorite site has windblown bushes (Melaleuca nesophila) that provide privacy, but California’s drought is now having an impact on them.  A ranger told me that the park is now limiting watering to three times per week and will be replacing the turf with drought tolerant plants.

DSC_0114 South Carlsbad State Beach

DSC_0128 Campsite on the bluff

Each year we enjoy listening to the continuous sound of the surf* and watching the shore birds soar by on the updraft of the sea breeze along the bluffs.

DSC_0068 Surf at Carlsbad

DSC_0337 Pelicans soaring

Nearby is The Flower Fields* 50-acre garden on the Carlsbad Ranch, featuring Giant Tecolote Ranuculus blooms* 10 weeks each spring sustained by reclaimed water from the City of Carlsbad and a drip irrigation system.

DSC_0035 The Flower Fields

DSC_0043 Giant Tecolote Ranunculus

On this trip I did  a photo shoot of a crow dive-bombing a squirrel hole in an attempt to capture young squirrels (See the dramatic photos and story in my post, “A crow and squirrel interlude,” History Safari Expresso).  I was also lucky to have the camera ready when a Great blue heron landed on our campsite fence.

DSC_0293 The crow and the squirrel

DSC_0225 Great blue heron

We decorated our outdoor camp kitchen with papel picado for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.*  Larry deep fried catfish.

DSC_0144 Cooking catfish, Cinco de Mayo

DSC_0157 Catfish by the sea

The last time we ate catfish by the sea, we enjoyed beautiful, glowing sunsets.  This time the sun silhouetted San Clemente Island.

DSC_0191 Flying solo at sunset

The ocean is a wonderful place to contemplate the mysteries and celebrations of life, as seen in my post, “Ocean gleanings,” History Safari Expresso.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.