Ghost Mountain spring hikes

Plans were already in place for us to spend four nights just below Ghost Mountain, so when Rich L. and family arrived in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with their friends Adam and Susan earlier in the week we were poised to go on a joint hike with them and celebrate their last full day in the desert with a sumptuous feast prepared by Larry.  We had already agreed on a hike to see the pictographs near Ghost Mountain and I was especially interested in seeing the nearby morteros for the first time. Adam and Susan had recently viewed the short film, Ghost Mountain – An Experiment in Primitive Living, shown in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitors’ Center, and they were interested in hiking up to see Marshal South’s former home site, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain. So we decided to do all three hikes in one afternoon.

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(Pictured above are Adam, Susan, Emma, Rich and Eleanor)

Zoe the cat enjoyed viewing the sites from the vantage point of Emma’s day bag while both Rich and Emma kept their eyes open for any curiosities along the trail.

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Bright yellow flower mounds of  Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) are prolific here at Yaquitepec right now. (The Laguna Mountains are seen along with the Mason Valley below.)

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The Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and the Brittlebush brighten Marshal South’s dissolving adobe ruins.

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Desert Agave (Agave deserti) is also very abundant here.  Standing below are two Agave flower stalks.  Native peoples (as illustrated in Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library) once roasted young agave stalks in rock-lined roasting pits for two days which resulted in a sweet, molasses-flavored agave which was consumed.

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Marshal South wrote in his article, Desert Refuge 35, in the June 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:

Mescal roasting is a family affair. Tanya and I find and bring in the sprouting plants that are ready for the baking.  Rider helps dig the pit and fetches stones to line it.  Rudyard and Victoria trot hither and thither, lugging in fuel…  you leave your mescals cooking in their primitive oven for two days… Take a knife or a hatchet and carefully trim off the outer crusting, and the prize lies before you.  Brown and golden and rich!

(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)

After hiking the mile back down to Rich’s Armada, we piled back in and continued down a sandy road to our next stop, Morteros Trail.  This .25 mile walk leads to an area where Native Kumeyaay women used rock pestles to pound seeds in the bedrock mortar (mortero).

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Along the way we spotted numerous lizards of various colors.  Emma wanted to see a large one so she performed her “Homage to the colored lizard” by repeated bowing with arms outstretched.

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We then climbed back into the Armada and continued down the road to our next and final hike of one mile into Smuggler Canyon to see the pictographs.  Emma’s homage worked because the next lizard that we saw was the largest one of the day.

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We found the rock art pictographs (pictures with applied color, as contrasted with petroglyphs which have pictures etched into rock) on a prominent boulder.  Manfred Knack says in his The Forgotten Artist – Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art, 1968, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, this rock art may have been associated with girls initiation ceremonies… The diamond chain or “rattlesnake” may have represented a messenger from the god Chinigehinish (or Chinigchinix), who would punish those who disobey his divine laws… Paintings at the conclusion of the rites of passage reaffirmed the final lessons of the ceremonies.

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So after a total of 4.5 miles of hiking…

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We were ready to find out what Larry had been preparing back at camp just southeast of Yaquitepec.

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In Larry’s own words: “Wednesday afternoon involved preparing dinner while Bill went hiking with our friends. A majority of that time was used to assemble the vegetarian pot stickers and cook the falafels. We found that another picnic table had been moved to our campsite. We aligned them end-to-end and set out a Mexican serape as a table cloth and hung 2 Chinese bamboo flutes with red tassels, which danced in the wind, on the branches of the grove of picturesque mesquite trees. This made for a festive ambiance with plenty of seating and a buffet table for serving. The weather was beautiful with mild breezes.

I had fixings out for salad and/or pita sandwiches, which included falafels, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini, hummus, tahini, pita wedges, vegetarian pot stickers (which were a favorite), lemonade, poppy seed short bread cookies, and celery sticks. Allowing guests to pick and choose their favorite eats always makes for a successful meal. Our guests (Rich, Eleanor, Emma, Adam and Susan) brought a bottle of wine and a delicious Julian apple pie topped with a crispy streusel topping.”

Larry enjoys researching and preparing food, recipes, and menus that are inclusive and compatible with guests’ dietary limitations.

I enjoyed the food and company so much that I forgot to take out our camera to capture the moment.  Perhaps we can entice the Man In The Maze to post some of his shots of this dinner gathering in his next post.

Chinese New Year in the desert

There was a wind advisory for Interstate 8 East travelers so we did a short hop over the mountains via Banner Grade and safely landed and set up camp under the brilliant evening “star” Venus.  Our landing day weather was clear with temperatures in the seventy’s.  It was an auspicious beginning.

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Below Ghost Mountain in the Anza-Borrego Desert, we raised our Earth Flag and set out a pair of Chinese bamboo flutes.  According to Feng Shui, bamboo flutes are generally hung by red cord with tassels and represent qualities of power, safety, peace and endurance.

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We celebrated the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Earth Ox, with decorations inside the trailer…

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and hung Oriental lanterns from the nearby Mesquite tree.

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Larry made deep-fried Chinese pork-shrimp dumplings, shaped like gold ingots for prosperity and served with plum sauce for a sweet new year.

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After dinner, I enjoyed the ambiance of the Mesquite trees embracing our camping space while I continued further explorations of night photography.

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I also continued to contemplate the mysteries surrounding Ghost Mountain, Yaquitepec, Marshal South and his trips to nearby Julian, and why some in Julian still refer to him as a “useless oddball”.  Last week writer, photographer Bert Gildart again hiked up Ghost Mountain to Yaquitepec and wrote why he is still fascinated with the Marshal South story in his post, “Nonconformist Marshall South and the Stubborn Fishhook Cactus“.  A few days later I joined him on a trip up Banner Grade to Julian where I showed him the gravesite of Marshal South and we went on to photograph the frieze that Marshal painted in the former Julian Library.  In my next article, “Desert trails and mysteries”, follow along as Bert and I visit Marshal’s gravesite and the library while we grapple with the mysteries surrounding the Souths’ and Julian.

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Airstream Alley, part three

Hiking our way into the New Year…

Our Alley-not-a-rally had no scheduled activities.  For example, on the first morning after our arrival in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Rich came by and knocked on our open trailer door as I was brushing my teeth by the Vanity sink.  I smiled when I saw him and immediately quoted back to him the first line in one of his posts, “The knock on the door always seems to come at the worst time”.  (Salt Creek Recreation, Joyce WA)  He laughed and announced that David, Ari and their son, William, would be riding with them in the Armada to visit Slot Canyon and Split Mountain and that anyone else would be welcome to follow them.  I thanked him but I said I wanted to spend some time completing the set-up our base camp.

The closest we got to scheduling anything was on the night before the event, we chatted about taking a hike up Palm Canyon and decided that a 9 a.m. time would be doable. The next morning at 8:55 a.m. I saw Rich’s door swing open and he came over and munched on sweet orange slices as Eleanor and Emma got ready, while I put the polarized lens on my camera.  “Hey, let’s go for a hike!”, he said.

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The Palm Canyon Nature trail is adjacent to the Palm Canyon Campground, where we are staying in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and reveals the dramas of past floods that uprooted palm trees and pushed them, along with massive boulders, down the canyon. (Palm Canyon Flash Flood!)  This hiking area is always a wonderful photo opportunity, especially when the wild flowers are blooming (First Field Report).   Ongoing and special events are listed on the Anza-Borrego Foundation website.

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With luck, patience, right timing and being quiet, sometimes Bighorn Sheep can be spotted here.  It seemed we might be in luck.  I spotted Rich, Eleanor and Emma ahead studying an auspicious sign, fresh scat.

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Zoe the cat, in Emma’s day-pack, smelled something’s up.  (Zoe the cat goes with Emma on all major hikes, including Death Valley.   I’m rather skeptical, too, because this is at least my third hike here and I’ve never seen a Bighorn Sheep. I am tempted to think that this is a myth perpetuated by rangers who periodically sprinkle scat on the paths. But, then again, writer and photographer, Bert Gildart spotted 21 of the elusive and endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep here last year. (Note that all, including myself, are observing sun safety by wearing wide-brimmed hats.)

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Even if we don’t see sheep, we know we will eventually be rewarded by the Palm Oasis ahead and its refreshing shade. We just have to decide which way to go. Here Eleanor contemplates going over or around a boulder, while Rich decides to cross the stream.  After a while, it seemed evident to me that Rich was choosing the more challenging way at every turn in preparation for his rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike later this year.  This tested our agility and became a balancing act.

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The Palm Oasis beckoned us on ahead.

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Once under the shade of the oasis, Rich adjusted his camera (Nikon D70 with the same lens that I use, a 18-200mm VR zoom lens).

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We felt at home in the oasis as we relaxed…

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and snacked…

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Emma is showing us her now almost empty box of raisins.  She dug her fingers down into the box and found a raisin to give to Rich.  As he accepted it, he exclaimed, “Wow, I’ve seen peas bigger than this!”, and Emma giggled with delight.  Oops, one raisin fell to the ground and Eleanor reminded her to pick it up so that the ants would not get it.  Later I questioned Eleanor about this and she said she had learned how ants can be damaging to our national treasures, such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Even items like soda and juice are not allowed on their cliff dwelling tours (they could attract animals and insects which could lead to damaging the dwellings).  Beyond this, Leave No Trace philosophy reminds everyone to be responsible for their actions and leave parks unaltered so that they may be enjoyed by future generations.

As we got up to leave the oasis, Eleanor’s hat fell and was stained with mud.  We decided to go up the canyon a bit higher, as Eleanor looked for a waterfall to wash her hat. She was delighted to find one.

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Rich forged ahead and found an even larger waterfall for Eleanor and a better photographic opportunity for himself. But she had to lean dangerously forward and swing her hat into the falls.

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Great fun was had by all!

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Well, we never did see sheep, but we did have a fun and enriching time…

And time for contemplating…

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… crossings and passages.

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Airstream Alley, part two

Cooking, feasting and entertaining our way into the New Year(s)…

This alley-not-a-rally had no scheduled, organized activities and events.  Even dinner details were decided at the last moment.  We set up our base camp (which faced away from the main campground) with picnic tables, umbrella, flagpole, lights and mats.  Participants and dishes varied from night to night as our spontaneous rolling party continued.

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Rich and Eleanor’s 2005 30′ Safari Bunkhouse is just ahead of ours, followed by David and Ari’s 2006 28′ Safari LS Slide-out.  Larry made siu mai, a form of dim sum as our Pug, Pau Hoa supervised.

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These pork and shrimp siu mai were then steamed for 20 minutes in the steamer seen here.

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Meanwhile, Rich and I played “The Galaxy Song” on our ukuleles.

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A pre-dinner “Ain’t Misbehavin‘” was played by Rich on his tenor uke.

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Seen at the dinner table on one of the feast nights were David and Ari, who brought tomato-shrimp pasta, stir-fried vegetables, and cheese cake.   Eleanor brought curried beef and a spicy, Indian curry lentil dish with macadamia nuts.  Terry and Greg brought Chinese spring rolls on one night and a pumpkin pie fresh out of their 19′ Safari Bambi’s oven on another night. (We are bundled up due to temperatures in the 40’s at night, but wear T-shirts during the day when the temperature is in the low 70’s.)

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You can see above that, besides the Oval Office, remnants of Rich’s “Beach Club” fabric also made their way to our cushions.

Seen below are Bill and Beth who brought an assortment of sweets that included nut bread, caramel corn, and Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, based on a recipe by Shirley Corriher (the recipe and how to bake the perfect cookie is found here).  Bill and Beth’s 1979 23′ Safari is pulled with a 1977 Lincoln Continental.  In addition to siu mai, Larry made coleslaw with sesame seeds.  Eleanor brought string beans and a salad with pomegranate seeds.  Also seen here are Bob and Theresa who pull a 2008 30′ Classic Slide-out with a F-350 dually.

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After-dinner entertainment was supplied by Larry and Emma who animated Griff, a griffin shoulder puppet that Larry found at Renaissance Faire.

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The following morning, just before our hike up Palm Canyon, Rich savored the very sweet and juicy navel oranges given to us by Ron and Aldrene, who have a 16′ Bambi.  Highlights of our adventurous hike up Palm Canyon will be featured in Airstream Alley, part three.

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Each year we celebrate three New Years (Rosh Hashana, Western new year, and Chinese New Year).  The new Chinese New Year, the Year of the Earth Ox, begins with the new moon on January 26 and we already have a string of auspicious, red Chinese firecrackers hanging on our pod bay door. The focus of the new year is on our family and friends. Larry is already at work researching Chinese recipes and I just found an Astro Chinese New Year 2009 Song.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy New Year, with health, wealth, and prosperity.

Happy New Year galaxy travelers

We rested and feasted while home for the holidays and kept warm and dry while our space ship enjoyed a natural washing from the recent winter rain storms along the coast of Southern California. Gas prices have now hit a five-year low and our sun now smiles down on the great Southwest, just in time for us to drive to Dos Picos Regional Park for a pre-New Year’s celebration with fellow galaxy travelers, Terry and Greg from Tucson, Arizona.

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We brought Larry’s homemade lentil soup with chicken, sausage and bacon, along with pork tamales, and chocolate biscotti.  The weather was on the cool side, but the food and hot tea warmed us up.

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(Sadie, their blond cocker spaniel, sits next to Larry, while Annie, a black cocker spaniel sits under the table, Greg is wearing the ball cap and Terry is wearing the yellow shirt.)  Terry (sometimes known as Tucson Terry) is known on Airstreamforums as TBRich where he features his travel thread “AZBAMBI… On the Road Again…“.  He also maintains his web site of the same name, which features a detailed log of their travels along with a plethora of beautiful and colorful photos. Through AZBambi Decors, Greg and Terry help others customize and personalize their Airstream interiors by making custom slip covers for the dinette, along with curtains, bedspreads, window valances, pillow shams and throw rugs. Greg made the new dinette cushion slip covers for the Luhrs’ seen here.

After lunch I enjoyed hiking the Nature Trail of Dos Picos Regional Park, located in San Diego County. Dos Picos is Spanish for “two peaks” (which are nearby) and is in a small valley filled with oak trees and surrounded by ranch land and steep rocky slopes. The Ipai (Kumeyaay) Native Americans lived here 7000 years ago. They gathered the abundant oak acorns and ground them into meal. The wide range of habitats supports birds, coyotes, foxes, possums, skunks, and raccoons. Due to the recent rains, moss grows abundantly on the rocks in shady areas.

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Along the trail I spotted a boulder that looked like a large skull.

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Snow covered the Cuyamaca Mountains in the distance.

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We re-grouped and spent the afternoon chatting.

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We talked about everything… their new interior LED overhead lights, fabrics, cushions, accessories, camping, traveling, cooking and food,  pets and even politics.  Well, New Year’s is a good time for A Year in Review – 2008… and a good time to raise our concerns for national lands and the wildlife therein (as recently done by writer and photographer, Bert Gildart)… and a time for contemplating New Year’s resolutions.  As darkness descended we talked about the Man in the Maze symbol, often used in the American Southwest by Hopi silversmiths.  According to O’odham oral history, this design depicts experiences and choices we make in our journey through life.  Greg then showed us his watchband with two A-Man-in-the-Maze gold and silver jewelry pieces made by Jason Takala (of the Hopi tribe) who specializes in Hopi Overlay Jewelry.

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I seem to recall seeing that symbol and title used somewhere else… let’s see.

We said our “See you on the road” to Terry and Greg and attempted to return to home base, but found ourselves repeatedly going in circles through the dark maze of the campground until a Park Ranger led us from darkness to the light of the Ranger’s Station at the park entrance.  Tomorrow we will reactivate the mother ship, recalibrate the flux capacitor and continue preparations for traveling to a warmer climate to greet the sun, travelers, and the new year.

Today Terry and Greg moved to William Heise County Park near Julian, CA.  I just received their report that it is cold, 35 degrees. (Current weather in Julian: temperature is 33 degrees and will drop to 22 degrees by midnight). Terry reports that the campground looks like an active lumber cutting camp with freshly bulldozed mud banks and torn up remains of trees”. He said the ranger reported that the heavy snow there earlier in the week had brought down many limbs, branches and whole trees! Hang in there, Terry and Greg, the weather in Anza-Borrego will be 70 degrees when we rendezvous there on Tuesday, and sunny through the week, which should be topped off nicely by the Quadrantids meteor shower during the pre-dawn hours of January 3.

Happy New Year! Galaxy Travelers and everyone, everywhere… Let’s toast to the New Year with champagne… or grapefruit juice… and Drive the Cold Winter Away!

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