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 bighorn sheep – Part 1

Ancestors of the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) once roamed the mountains and valleys of Iran, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, and Siberia before crossing on ice and land bridges during interglacial periods across what is now the Bering Sea into the Western Hemisphere, says Marc Jorgensen* in his comprehensive book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon.  My first close-up encounter and photo shoot with the desert bighorn sheep occurred five years ago and is documented in my posts, “Peninsular Bighorn Sheep” and “Bighorn Sheep revisited.”  My second close encounter occurred last month and is seen below and in a following post.

Coming out of the restroom in Agua Caliente Regional Park in the Anza-Borrego Desert region, I spotted desert bighorn sheep on a nearby hill just above the campsites.  Their color and size blends in well with the landscape.

DSC_0163 Distant view desert bighorn sheep

This herd consisted of 14 sheep that often positioned themselves in different positions to look for danger such as mountain lions, coyotes, and humans that have been seen here.  I slowly and quietly hiked in their direction as they moved down the slope to the lush greenery around the campsites.

DSC_0168 Sheep coming down to eat

They first had a good look at me on the road just as they were about to cross into the campground and had to make a decision on proceeding to food or to safety.

DSC_0177_2 Decision time

I believe some recognized me from the previous encounter and others perceived I was not a threat, so they continued on toward their brunch.

DSC_0182 Crossing into campground

They enjoyed their picnic by the campsites…

DSC_0204 Campsite sheep picnic

until oblivious and noisy campers cut through the sites on their way to soak in the nearby spa and pools.*

DSC_0207 sheep wrapped up picnic

So the sheep crossed back to relax in their own “day use area”…

DSC_0211 Sheep on way to "day use" area

DSC_0223 Sheep in "day use" area

where they posed for me…

DSC_0251_2 Desert bighorn sheep

and then settled down to relax and sunbathe.

DSC_0237 Bighorn sheep group 2

 

DSC_0235 Ram smiling while sunbathing

I shared in the warmth and happiness of the moment and heard “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy“.*

*This is a link to 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.

Agua Caliente stars

Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night* and a wild new year,” I thought as we returned to Agua Caliente at the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, to enjoy clear, cool nights under the desert stars and to discover new stars!  Howdy Doody was already celebrating* while sitting on the picnic table next to publication stars, Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), gold (power), and green (faith), and behind the mask, a Buddha’s hand (fingered citron) symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune.

DSC_0021 Mardi Gras stars

Good fortune came to our early morning wildlife stars, first the white-winged doves, followed by Purple finches, as they feasted from wild bird seed held by our vintage, rustic feeder from home.

DSC_0115 House finch & rustic feeder

Our local roadrunner passed by, so we threw out some breadcrumbs, but the roadrunner disappeared, probably because a hungry, young coyote was lurking nearby and soon made its bold appearance.  (Its mother made her appearance last month, resulting in the permanent disappearance of a chihuahua!)

DSC_0028 Agua Caliente coyote

Driven by hunger, this coyote came into our campsite, while keeping an eye on us and our dogs!  (Larry held corgi Tasha while I crouched and photographed by the rear of our truck.)

DSC_0038_2 Coyote eating crumbs

While hiking, I came across a more natural food for coyotes, a 3-inch Coyote melon, Curcurbita palmata, which when ripe, yields seeds that have been found in coyote scat.

DSC_0060 Coyote melon

At the beginning of my hike, I saw a new sign warning of recent mountain lion activity.  The rangers told me that around Christmas, a bighorn sheep carcass was found with marks and covered with sand consistent with a mountain lion attack near the seep area of Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Cameras were set up around the carcass for four nights, which turned this puma into a poster star!

DSC50 Moonlight Canyon mountain lion

More wildlife drama occurred the following day at camp when Larry spotted a white-winged dove dangling by its foot attached to the top of a  20-25-foot Agave deserti dead flower stalk by entangling string.

DSC106 White-winged dove entangled

DSC107 White-winged dove & familyLarry notified Camp Host Dan and Ranger Melinda.  Dan quickly arrived in his utility cart, assessed the situation, and returned with appropriate tools, such as a saw, large lopping shears, chainsaw chaps, and needle nose scissors and tweezers.  Since the stalk had already bloomed and died, it was permissible to cut it down in order to rescue this bird.  Dan donned the chaps to protect from nearby thorns and sawed three quarters into the trunk, while I supported it with the reacher.  He then supported the trunk as I made the final cut with the lopping shears.  We rested the stalk on the utility cart and Dan folded back the dove’s wings and calmed it while I cut the many threads that were wrapped around the foot, toes and branch.  Photos were then taken and the dove was released and flew off to our delight.  Camp Host Dan saved this bird’s life and is a star in my eyes!

DSC111 Camp Host Dan & dove

Larry and I celebrated the season each evening by turning on a string of LED light bulbs that Larry had covered with Mixed Pepper Light Covers, which was wrapped around a wreath of homegrown red trumpet vine encircling enameled laser-cut steel in the shape of the sun – our star given to us by friends!

DSC101 Holiday wreath, Mardis Gras colors

A wild beginning of the new year, yes, but I think everything will be OK because here comes the sun!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.