Tiki time in the mountains

Temperatures are rising in our nearby deserts with current average highs over 100o, so it was time to catch the mountains before they also become too hot for us.

dsc_0038-flag-day-in-the-mountains.jpg Our F-250 easily towed our 23′ Safari up from the Pacific Coast to our favorite wooded mountain campsite in the Cuyamaca Mountains, near Julian, California, at an elevation of 4200′.

Julian, located in a mixed pine-oak woodland, was the seasonal home to the Native American Kumeyaay people, who were displaced after the American Civil War by displaced Confederate Veterans from Georgia.

We strategically backed the trailer into the sun for the solar panels and parked the unhitched truck near the shade, where we and the Corgis often relaxed and chilled out during the heat of the day.

We raised the American flag high in honor of Flag Day.

We bring a large cooler filled with food and ice on every trip, which we usually take out of the truck and place in a shady area.  But it periodically had to be moved out of the moving sun or protected from night creatures, such as raccoons in this case.  So we found that it is more convenient (and the ice lasts longer) to leave it in the truck cargo area with the Retrax locking cover retracted for ventilation and cover it with a large truck sun shade to keep it cool.

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Since we had five nights reserved here, I brought along our REI dome tent that I had brought out here two years ago and set it up to relive the joys of tent camping and being close to nature and the elements, at least for a night or two (this might become an annual event).  The Tiki, which we renamed “Iz“,  also came along to enjoy the elements, especially the sun, which almost always makes him high.

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This campground is known for its wild turkeys, and one morning I found one that likes to take a walk in the sun.

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Later in the day, jumbo shrimp, bell peppers, onions, and leftover salsa fresca were stir fried on the Volcano 2 stove using the propane attachment.  As the sun set, we sipped Kahlúa in half and half cream in sherry glasses while we were entertained by bats dancing through the sky in search of insects.

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Tasha and I spent two nights in a row in the dome tent guarded by Iz.

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We listened to the evening breezes rustling through the hillside forest trees, sounding like the ocean surf at times, as the first quarter of the Strawberry Moon slowly descended the western night sky.

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We awoke at first light to the chorus of morning bird songs as our midsummer night’s dreams lingered in our minds.

Earthquakes and volcanos

Our Easter brunch family guests had just left and I was setting up the laptop computer when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck 100 miles away causing our house to rock and roll and prompting me to call our newly acquired Corgi, Tasha, to join me out on the patio, followed by Larry and Corgi, Mac.  We watched as our fish pond noisily sloshed back and forth.  Two wine bottles and a clock had fallen over but were not damaged.   Thousands of aftershocks continue to be reported (including a 4.7 earthquake this morning), and it is estimated that earthquake-related damage in nearby Imperial County will eventually be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

One week later we returned to Anza-Borrego Desert for five nights of camping in a region that lies across one of the most active seismic systems in North America, according to Geology of Anza-Borrego: Edge of Creation, by Paul Remeika and Lowell Lindsay, 1992, Sunbelt Publications.  After passing over Earthquake Valley fault at Scissors Crossing, we stopped just outside Tamarisk Grove Campground (the second largest campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and now only open on weekends due to California’s budget crisis) for a look at the profuse yellow flowers of the Brittlebush.

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According to Diana Lindsay in her book Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications,  Tamarisk Grove is named for a stand of Athel tamarisk trees (Tamarix aphylla) planted as a shade tree and windbreak.  The campground was originally a San Diego County prison camp, established in 1929 to relieve crowding in the county jail.  Nearby are the Cactus Loop and Yaqui Well trails.

After a brief stop to take photos, we continued on to our Borrego Palm Canyon campsite.  Later in the week, our friends (and veterinarian) Bob and Theresa arrived with their 30′ Airstream Classic with slide-out.  Several times Bob spotted Bighorn Sheep and lambs on the ridge overlooking the campground through his telescope.

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A volunteer in the Visitors’ Center reported that the peak in the wildflower season here was two weeks ago, but we were pleased to see many plants still blooming, such as the Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus fremontii), named after John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), the first presidential candidate of a major party to run on a platform opposing slavery in 1856.

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While walking our Corgis along the campground road, we spotted Purple heather (Krameria erecta), seen below.

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While the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, was spewing out ash and disrupting flights across Europe, our Volcano II Collapsible Stove was deep-frying Chinese spring rolls.

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This stove was purchased at a promotional demonstration at Costco earlier this year and this is the first time we brought it along while camping.

This portable, efficient and versatile stove can use propane gas, charcoal and wood.  It collapses and travels in the case provided.

Although it was not clear in the Owner’s Manual, we eventually found that the propane burner gas flames can be optimized by adjusting the air vent found on the underside of the propane burner (see below).dsc_0031-adjustable-air-vent.jpg

Our wok ring was added to support the Dutch oven.

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The spring rolls were stuffed with pork, shrimp and cabbage.  Once the oil was at 350o, the spring rolls were deep-fried.

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The stove worked wonderfully and produced delicious Chinese spring rolls seen on our campsite picnic table decorated with Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria) flowers from home (a flowering Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, is seen in the background).

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After dinner we enjoyed balmy desert breezes and watched the stars.  During the heat of the day, we turned on the air conditioner and read and napped…

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And listened to music and contemplated life through a dog’s eyes.  See the touching PBS film, Through a Dog’s Eyes.

We are learning to take our time and smell the flowers while time is still on our side.

Wildflowers, art, and dogs! Oh my!

Wildflowers are beginning to make their appearance in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and this year promises to be a great one because of the heavier then usual rainfall.  With a little luck, warmth and sun, the wildflower displays should be spectacular.  Although we did have one day of full sun last week in the desert, most days were partly sunny and cool breezes prevailed.

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Our annual return for this event was even more special for us this time because we brought along a new member of the family, Tasha (short for Rosewood Montage), a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.  We also brought along a new element for our setup, a dog pen (click on the above image for larger view).  Advantages of using a dog pen are noted below.

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Tasha’s happy now, but when we returned home from our previous outing our local Corgi breeder, Liisa, told us that Tasha had just lost her first litter (via emergency C-section) and was depressed.  Liisa had to be out of town for a few days and asked us if we could house her, and if it worked out, we would also have an option to buy her, which we did upon Liisa’s return.  Tasha now brightens our days as we cope with the pending loss of our 15 year old Pug, Pau Hoa, who was diagnosed with a malignant mast cell tumor (She can be seen in the upper right corner of the above photo).

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We all had a happy time walking in and around the wildflower displays in Palm Canyon Campground.

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On Friday we loaded the Corgis into their carriers strapped to the back folded down seat of our F-250 truck (see Traveling and Pet Safety), positioned the Pug on a floor cushion under Larry’s legs and took off to visit the Farmers’ Market at the Borrego Springs Christmas Circle and enjoyed delicious tacos from Jilberto’s Taco Shop.  We then drove north on Borrego Springs Road exploring various parcels of the Galleta Meadows Estate displaying free-standing welded iron sculptures created by Ricardo Breceda.

dsc_0056-father-francisco-garces.jpg One such sculpture is a depiction of Father Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés (April 13,1738 – July 19, 1781) accompanied by his dog holding a bone.

In 1768 Spanish Franciscan Garcés was assigned to Mission San Xavier del Bac near present day Tucson, Arizona.

He conducted extensive explorations of the Southwest and assisted Juan Bautista de Anza in establishing an overland connection with New Spain through the region of the lower Colorado River.

A sprinkling of wildflowers can be seen in the foreground, while snow is seen on the distant mountains in the background.

After visiting and photographing other sculptures (which will appear in my next article), we returned to camp.  Below is a photo of our dog pen.  We have discovered the benefits of dog pens in that they can provide a safe, secure, and shady place for our dogs and help us manage them during meal time.  In this photo Tasha is on a runner and has chosen to enter the pen to relax.  The pen is held in place with bungee cords attached to the table.

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Bob and his wife, Theresa, joined us for a Chinese fire pot dinner.  Bob is our veterinarian and has a 30′ Classic Airstream.  Charcoal burns in the chimney of the fire pot/hot pot heating the soup and cooking the ingredients that guests place into the soup with a small wire basket.  Noodles can be added to the soup as a last course.

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Tom Yum, a Thai kaffir lime chicken broth, was used as the soup and the following ingredients were provided: raw shrimp, sliced boneless skinless chicken thighs, cooked pork meat balls, bok choy, chopped cilantro, shredded Nori seaweed, and roasted peanuts.  Guests chose from a variety of condiment sauces.

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A happy time was had by all…

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But there’s no place like home.

Desert coyotes

We camped in a desert oasis that is supplied with water at various times by rainwater draining from the Sawtooth Mountains via the Potrero Wash.  While hiking this wash, I saw many wild animal tracks in the sand, including those of the coyote. (a Naturebytes video).

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The coyote (click here to see photo), Canis latrans, the “barking dog”, is a member of the Canidae (dog) family, has an average weight range of 15-46 pounds, and is found throughout North and Central America.  The name “coyote” is a loanword from American Spanish and is derived from the Nahuatl word cóyotl, meaning “prairie wolf”.  The coyote, known as “the song dog” by Native American Indians, often appears in Native American Indian tradition and folklore and is often portrayed as the trickster (and survivor).

The coyote is a very adaptable, wide-ranging predator with an excellent sense of smell, vision and hearing, and hunts alone, in pairs, or in packs.  Each night at sunset, we heard the first calls of the coyotes, high-pitched sounds variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks, most often heard at dusk and at night.

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We closed the trailer windows against the approaching chilly night air, fed the dogs and got them inside before they could become dinner for the coyotes.  Coyotes have been known to attack pets and livestock.  We also secured trash and food containers with lids and weights (rocks).

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The coyotes usually waited well into the night, when our trailer was silent, before exploring our campsite.  We could tell that they had visited.  Sometimes we could hear their sounds right next to the trailer.  By morning, the dog’s water bowl was empty and marked with coyote urine.  Nearby was a fresh pile of coyote scat, consisting mostly of mesquite beans, which are plentiful at this oasis.

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Coyotes are opportunistic and eat what is available, including the Back-tailed Jackrabbit

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and Gambel’s Quail (named after William Gambel, an American naturalist, who died of typhoid while crossing the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1849).  They inhabit and roost in brushy and thorny vegetation of southwestern deserts.

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The coyote’s adaptability has helped it to survive the encroachment of “civilization” and has led to its success as a native North American species.  Coyotes are now thriving, even in suburban settings and some urban ones, and causing alarm and unease.  Coyotes are causing flight delays at some airports.  Two recent incidents of coyotes biting people at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, prompted the authorization to kill coyotes, resulting in the death of eight coyotes and a public outcry.

Environmentalists believe that coyotes are necessary to maintain the balance of nature (for example, coyotes help control rodents and feral cats).  The coyote is a persecuted predator, according to Project Coyote, founded in 2008 “to create a shift in attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding and appreciation”.

Project Wildlife says that humans need to learn to coexist with coyotes.  Griffith Park is now taking a more positive approach by posting ‘Do Not Feed The Wildlife’ signsAdditional information on the coyote and protecting yourself and your pets is found in these Frequently Asked Questions, presented by DesertUSA.com and in this video.

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Coyote sounds * enhance our desert experience and I always look forward to hearing them, just as I enjoy listening to Peter and the Wolf * at this time of year.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cuyamaca Indian summer

The summer heat is over and the seasons are changing quickly now, so for us it means the beginning of our fall and winter camping season.  Although it is still too hot for us in the desert, we traditionally enjoy experiencing the fall harvest season in our local Cuyamaca Mountains.

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At the end of last season our trailer got its annual major washing, which was followed with a thorough washing of all trailer awnings.  Just prior to starting our new season, I applied 303 Aerospace Protectant to the seals of our Fan-Tastic Vents, windows and doors to protect them and keep them from sticking.  Then we refilled our propane tanks and checked the operation of all equipment, including the hot water heater, water pump, stove, oven, furnace and refrigerator.  Vent screens were cleaned and the trailer was vacuumed.  Tire lug nut torque checks were done along with checking air pressure and installing tire pressure sensors.  The fresh water tank was topped off and our solar panels were cleaned in anticipation of camping without hookups in the Cuyamacas.

Larry prepared the menus and food, including the baking of the buttery, rich and very delicious French apple tart seen below in its tart pan just out of our home oven to tie in with the seasonal apple harvest festival celebrated in nearby Julian, Ca.

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Indian summer is an expression indicating sunny and warm weather in autumn when the leaves are turning color, often after the first frost, and before the first snowfall.  Days before our outing, Julian’s morning low was 31 degrees and we departed in the midst of a hazardous weather outlook for all of extreme southwestern California.  But within two days we experienced Indian summer in the mountains.

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Besides the periodic California Santa Ana fires, another drama is being played out here and other areas of San Diego’s East County.  Thousands of oak trees are dying from infestations of the gold-spotted oak borer, which may have spread under bark of firewood.  The public has been urged not to transport firewood in or out of the county until more is known about this problem.  Even as we were camping, we could hear dead and/or hazardous trees and undergrowth being cut and turned into chips for mulching areas of the park.

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Some of these oak trees were quite large, such as the one below seen on my morning walk.

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Also seen during my morning walk were a Rio Grande Turkey hen and her two fledglings emerging into a clearing.

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The fledglings foraged while the hen kept a sharp eye on me.

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It had been chilly when I left the trailer for my walk, but when I returned, freshly baked Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits greeted me, along with a very warm trailer (we found no need to turn on the furnace on chilly mornings when anticipating baking with the oven).

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One of a set of small, battery operated LED flickering tea lights (seasonal item Larry found at Costco) is seen in the votive holder above.

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By the afternoon we experienced the Indian summer temperature of 80 degrees.  We used our new Endless Breeze 12-volt fan for the first time and Larry reports that it worked beautifully.

This fan is made by Fan-Tastic Vent and is available at Camping World (we ordered ours online from Fan-Tastic Vent).

It plugs into our trailer’s interior DC outlet.  Maximum current draw is reported to be 3 amps (easily supplied by our solar panels).  It also comes with clips for attaching to pet crates.

Our fall harvest/Halloween dinner table setting included pumpkins, Indian corn (also called maize), a turkey-shaped wicker basket containing Pineapple Guava, and a floral display of Plumeria (guava and Plumeria are from our yard).  The Pineapple Guava is sweet and juicy and is especially enjoyed by our pug, Pau Hoa.

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And so during this golden fall harvest season, we are thankful to be able to return to and experience our beautiful parks with our loved ones, whether we are vividly awake… or enjoying Golden Slumbers.  

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