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.

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.

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 Snow Moon and King’s Cake

New Englanders were digging out from a major snow storm and Punxsutawney Phil* was eying his shadow and predicting six more weeks of winter, while we were enjoying balmy weather, festive night skies, and the Full Snow Moon* over the Anza-Borrego Desert at the beginning of February.

DSC_0054 Snow Moon over Anza-Borrego

We also continued celebrating the 2015 Mardi Gras season* and so we continued the tradition that we began last month of bringing along King’s Cake.  This time Larry made cinnamon roll King’s Cake* with craisins, walnuts, and a hidden baby that added to the fun.  It was charged with the light of the Full Snow Moon, along with our Black Diamond Apollo Lanterns, now softened by Larry’s custom made shades using beaded fringe tape suspended from inverted baskets, which has whimsical movements in the breeze and provides fun shadows.

DSC_0014 Charging King's Cake

The cake was topped with white glaze sprinkled with sanding sugar* in Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green.

DSC_0038 Cinnamon King's Cake

A slice of this rich cake, along with a cup of French roast coffee, made for a good start for my early morning hike on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.  Recent sprinkles here brought new green leaves to ocotillo and brittlebush plants, but flowers are not yet plentiful due to the ongoing California drought. Nevertheless, this canyon trail always presents spectacular sights, such as golden cholla on canyon rims, piercing dark blue skies.*

DSC_0067 Moonlight Canyon Cholla

After seeing the beauty of the canyon, I returned to camp and spotted an eyesore of long ago discarded trash, partially covered in sand.  I lifted the items up and discovered that they provided a home for a large Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus anzaborrego, that I quickly photographed before taking the trash to the dumpster.  The scorpion held its tail with sting and venom-injecting barb up high and quickly found a new home in the nearby rock wall.

DSC_0075 Anza-Borrego Hairy Scorpion

Scorpions are nocturnal and emerge at night to hunt and feed, just about the time I am outside in flip-flops doing night photography, such as of the nearby rock wall with a large Catclaw Acacia in moonlight.  A Chinese I-Ching coin wind chime is on a branch and reminds us that Chinese New Year starts February 19.

DSC_0026 Acacia and rock wall

We thoroughly enjoy our desert home away from home and the beautiful view of Whale Mountain at sunset… even Howdy Doody seems particularly happy here, and I can imagine him singing, “Home on the Range“.*

DSC_0089 Howdy Doody at sunset

*This is a link to 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.