A desert homecoming

The “promising new site” mentioned a year ago in my article “Grazing and gazing at Agua Caliente” has become our desert home-away-from-home where we can set up camp and enjoy the desert in relative peace and quietness and hear the hum and chirping of hummingbirds* darting to our feeder or ravens circling and calling overhead.*

DSC_0265 Morning at Agua Caliente

One of the features of this site was a lush growth of Nerium oleander that provided beautiful flowers, windbreak and privacy that we cherish.

DSC_0095 Nerium oleander bloom

But, alas, a California State Park mandate required its removal because it is a non-native plant with toxic foliage that can have a negative impact on bighorn sheep that frequent the area (a temporary exemption was lifted on May 25, 2015).  “A single oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can cause death,” states former Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Superintendent, Mark C. Jorgensen, in his book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2015, page 116.  So we were not surprised to find stumps instead of lush plants when we returned earlier this month…

DSC_0297 Oleander cut & poisoned

… and a lack of privacy (compare the photo below with those seen in my article noted above).

DSC_0261 Our site without oleander

Fortunately, we have very nice and friendly neighbors, so our celebration of the season and our return to the desert was not diminished!

DSC_0189 Holidays in the desert '15

Our day at Agua Caliente typically begins before the sun rises as ever-changing soft pastel colors of red, orange, and yellow bathe the nearby mountains.  The early morning is chilly, but Larry is already outside, enjoying this peaceful, magical moment as I crawl out of bed in a comfortable Airstream trailer kept toasty by a quiet and efficient Vornado AVH2 Whole Room Vortex Heater.  Larry hears me move about and comes to the door to take the dogs down their ramp for their morning walk.  (Corgis’ long backs make them prone to injury.)  Tasha has made a full recovery after her $6000 laminectomy for a ruptured spinal disc 2 years ago.  I enjoy the moment by seeing and smelling freshly brewed coffee steam swirl about over the coffee filter as I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and then take time to savor its taste and mellow out.*

DSC_0245 Early morning coffee

After morning chores (and eating homemade cookies and apple slices), I take the Nikon camera along for a hike.  I enjoy the textures of the desert…

DSC_0234 Desert textures

… and look for signs of wildlife, such as coyote scat…

DSC_0217 Fresh coyote scat

… and whatever else comes along…

DSC_0233 Ocotillo, cholla & barrel cactus

After a midday shower, I enjoy one of Larry’s delicious sandwiches, and sometimes a roadrunner* drops in.

DSC_0291 Roadrunner

The days are now short and it’s not long before the sun sets, the air chills and the splendor of a desert night sky reveals itself.*

DSC_0197 Under desert night sky

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Mobile-friendly mountain happiness

History Safari Express is now seven years old, got a facelift, and is now mobile-friendly, which should make users of mobile devices happy when they visit this website that brings history alive as Larry and I continue our Airstream adventures in San Diego’s beautiful mountains, deserts, and along the coast.  The push to go mobile-friendly came from Google’s changing its search algorithms on April 21, 2015, which will favor websites that are mobile-friendly.  Mobile-friendly means that users of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets can read and navigate website content, which is important since millions of Internet users access and search the Internet with mobile devices.  According to the CBS News story, “Google search shake-up favors mobile-friendly sites,” 29% of all U.S. search requests in the last three months of last year were made on mobile devices.

History Safari Express is now happier and happy to report that we and our Airstream Safari, now eight years old, were happy to return to the cool, refreshing Cuyamaca Mountains now that our local desert is heating up.  We returned to our favorite non-hookup campsite at William Heise County Park near Julian, California, where we were surrounded by fragrant Palmer Lilac bushes, pine and oak trees, and plentiful wildlife.

DSC_0005 Palmer Lilac around Safari

Temperatures at night were in the 30s and 40s so we were happy that our Mr. Heater, using 16.4 oz. propane canisters, warmed the trailer without needing to use the energy inefficient and loud trailer furnace.  Per the manual, this heater requires a vent area of 9 square inches, which was easily supplied by our 5″ diameter bathroom vent that has an area of 19.6 square inches.  As seen in the photo below, the bathroom door could be kept closed because it has a bottom opening, 1.75″ by 26″, and an area of 45.5 square inches.  One canister lasted us 5 hours, set on “LO” setting.

DSC_0013(2) Mr Heater

We and our solar panels were happy when the sun came up.  A portable radio helped to conserve electrical power.  At night we enjoyed votive candles.

DSC_0018 Grundig YB 305 receiver

Of course, our corgis, Mac and Tasha, were thrilled to go on walks.  We paused to admire a flowering Western redbud.

DSC_0039 Larry & corgis by Western redbud

DSC_0030 Western redbud

We are happy that this San Diego County Park allows dogs on trails, and our corgis couldn’t wait to get on the Cedar Trail.  (Dogs need to be kept on a six foot leash.)

DSC_0089 Larry & corgis on Cedar Trail

Mule deer* were nearby.

DSC_0002 Mule deer

And Rio Grande Turkeys feasted during a 40 minute photo shoot while I imagined Senator Robert Byrd playing, “Turkey in the Straw.”* (See more close-up views of this tom turkey and his two hens and how this opportunity arose in my post, “A Rio Grande turkey interlude,” History Safari Expresso blog.)

DSC_0316 Rio Grande Turkey feasting


DSC_0343 Rio Grande Tom Turkey

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the bluffs over the Pacific Ocean next month.  In the meantime, see more photos of deer, turkeys, Acorn woodpeckers, Stellar jays, and read and hear meditations, and find out what is so special about four pebbles in my post, “Mountain gleanings,” and see my updated post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” all in my new History Safari Expresso blog, which just went mobile-friendly, and now I’m really feelin’ groovy!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

It’s cooking up in the desert, again!

Earlier this month, we enjoyed sunny days and moderate temperatures while we celebrated the Lantern Festival and the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations.  We spent relaxing cool evenings, sitting outside stargazing while the Full Worm Moon brilliantly lit up our Airstream Safari trailer and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0290 Under full moon & stars

I enjoyed rich coffee, cake and reading material in the mornings before going on hikes.  I was hoping to photograph once more the elusive bighorn sheep, especially since this is the Year of the Sheep.*

DSC_0208 Morning coffee & cake

As I started my hike, the first flower that I saw was nearby our campsite.

DSC_0056 Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus, Opuntia basilaris

I then got on the Moonlight Canyon Trail where I had photographed bighorn sheep last December.

DSC_0113 Moonlight Canyon Trail

That morning, the granite walls were still cold from the chilly, desert night air and I was greeted by soothing, cool air as I entered the trail from the east.

As I hiked over the trail’s saddle, I spotted a blooming barrel cactus in front of ocotillo (Whale Mountain is seen in the background).

DSC_0142 California barrel cactus

California barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus

The next morning, I hiked up the Desert Overlook Trail to get current photos of Agua Caliente County Park.

DSC_0225 Agua Caliente County Park

I was especially interested in getting an updated, overhead view of the camping loop where our original, favorite campsite and eleven other RV sites were displaced by seven cabins, which I documented in “Cabinization of our parks.”  Each cabin has an array of solar panels and the camping fee is currently $70 per night.  They are typically all occupied on weekends.

DSC_0233 7 cabins displaced 12 RV sites

Each evening Larry prepared gustatory delights, such as deep-fried Szechuan pepper-salt calamari rings, Japanese eggplant and Mexican zucchini.

DSC_0268 Deep-frying calamari rings

DSC_0275-2 Fried calamari rings & squash

The desert is also cooking up, with temperatures currently 90°, so we won’t be back here until next fall.

DSC_0105 Our Agua Caliente campsite

We are currently enjoying our garden near the coast, while preparing for our return to the mountains next month.  See our garden blooms in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” in my new blog, History Safari Expresso, while enjoying a rich cup of coffee or espresso.*

*This is a YouTube video.

Desert Wolf Moon and King’s Cake


It was an auspicious way to begin the new year, returning to our favorite spot in the Anza-Borrego Desert on the Full Wolf Moon* and eve of Twelfth Night, along with the possibility of spotting Comet Lovejoy.  The days are now growing longer, so we were able to set up camp and enjoy hot turkey open-faced sandwiches before the full moon rose.

DSC_0010 Full Wolf Moon, Anza-Borrego

Twelfth Night marks the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas, the arrival of the Magi (three Wise men or Kings), Epiphany, and the beginning of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season.  Various cultures celebrate this time with a sweet cake, such as the Mexican Rosca de Reyes.*  We arrived with Larry’s version of King’s cake, a panettone with dried cherries, craisins, sliced almonds, and zest from a homegrown kaffir lime, all marinated in brandy.  Purple, gold, and green icing (traditional colors of Mardi Gras)* was drizzled over the top, adding a nice crunchy texture.  The cake was then charged with the magical and festive light of the full moon.

DSC_0030 King's Cake in moonlight

The next day, the cake was topped off with our homegrown Cattleya orchids and surrounded with strings of Mardi Gras beads.*

DSC_0044 King's cake in sunlight

DSC_0046 Cattleya orchids on King Cake

Following this photo shoot, I savored a slice of this rich cake, along with a cup of freshly brewed coffee before taking my morning hike on Moonlight Canyon Trail where I photographed bighorn sheep last month.  The sheep were elusive and not seen this time, but I did enjoy the sight of brilliant sunlight backlighting plants along the ridge, which I especially appreciated after experiencing cloudy days, cold rain and hail in San Diego just a week before.

DSC_0059 Moonlight Canyon ridge

We usually eat dinner outside in the late afternoon while enjoying the ever-changing display of soft, dusty pastel colors on the nearby Pinyon/Vallecito Mountains and Whale Peak, but sometimes the darkness seems to fall too quickly, and for those occasions, we now have Black Diamond Apollo Lanterns,* which, on the dimmest setting, present a soft light enabling us to see and enjoy our meal, in this case, Kalua pork and pepper jack cheese quesadillas, with a side of black-eyed peas with ham, buttered broccoli, and scallions.

DSC_0088 Apollo lanterns

After dinner, we enjoyed stargazing and looking for Comet Lovejoy.*  Larry saw what looked like a bright, flickering star with changing colors of blue, white, and green at the foot of Orion just above the horizon.  Later, I was mesmerized by the full moon that lit up the desert…

DSC_0085 Looking for Comet Lovejoy

and happy the following morning by the return of the sun!*

DSC_0102 Anza-Borrego sunrise


*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Crowing about desert life

“There is always something tremendously exciting about beginning a New Year…  It is the beginning of a new page; a page of some fascinating, illumined parchment. An ancient page, but to us still unread. What will it hold? The desert is full of mystery and surprise.”**  Thus begins poet, author, and artist Marshal South‘s* account of his family’s 17-year experiment in living a primitive lifestyle at their home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain in the Anza-Borrego Desert.  Some might see this area as desolate, but Marshal saw and wrote about the desert’s cornucopia of animals, plants, weather, stars, and peaceful beauty.  Escaping the stress of urban living for 5 days each month through spring and relaxing in the desert helps restore our sanity.

Our desert mornings typically begin with a beautiful sunrise that bathes the nearby mountains with an ever-changing array of dusty pastel colors.  We delight in watching and listening to the birds that emerge and feed on birdseed that Larry placed in the bird feeder or scattered about.

DSC_0035 Gambel's quail, White-winged doves

Gambel’s quail and White-winged doves feast on wild birdseed scattered on our nearby embankment, while White-crowned sparrows land and spin around on the hanging bird feeder.

DSC_0102 White-crowned sparrows

After my morning coffee and toast, listening to the news and weather, and watching the sun rise, it was time to send out our Nutcracker to survey the prospects for a good morning hike.  He reported that prospects were good for me, but he’d stay behind due to his stiff legs.

DSC_0031 Nutcracker in the desert 2

So with camera in one hand and walking stick in another, water bottle on my waist belt, and Tilley hat* on my head, I ventured forth on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.  I traveled slowly and quietly in hopes of seeing the bighorn sheep that I first encountered four years ago.  I wasn’t disappointed as I rounded a curve in the trail before entering the canyon and spotted two bighorn sheep grazing on new vegetative growth after recent rains.

DSC_0046 Bighorn sheep

They seemed to recognize me, and came down off the small ridge, walked across the trail, and scampered up the ridge on the other side.  They paused and took another look at me before going over the ridge and galloping across a relatively flat watershed area to the east of the campground.

DSC_0059 Bighorn sheep 12:9:14

I then entered the shaded portion of Moonlight Canyon with its refreshingly cool air chilled by granite walls that retained the previous night’s cold.  The trail then opened up into warm, full sun with cholla, barrel cacti, and ocotillo piercing a deep blue sky.

DSC_0070 Moonlight Canyon Trail

No further sheep were spotted, but desert plants like the agave were beautiful to see and have inspired us to begin replacing some of our water-needy plants at home with desert plants that help us conserve water* in the face of California’s ongoing extreme drought.*

DSC_0077 Agave along Moonlight Canyon

I always enjoy a shower after a good hike before lunch, so I returned to the trailer, changed and grabbed a towel, and called out to a raven* that recognized me and circled about while calling back* to me as I made my way to the campground’s shower.

DSC_0026 Strutting raven

This common raven and the crow are both in the same genus (Corvus) of birds, and they and the beauty and diversity of the desert are something to crow about.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

**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.