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.

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.

Mobiling more for less

A new law this summer, “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act,” makes it easier for consumers to change their cell phone service.  We are retired and want to receive the most value for our money that we have earned and now spend.  Earlier this summer, we declared our independence from pay TV, bought an indoor antenna, cancelled cable TV, and are now enjoying saving $900/year.  We recently re-evaluated our mobile phone service and found that we can get more value for less money!

Our mobiling needs began when we began Airstreaming with our new Safari in 2007.  We bought our first mobile phone primarily for safety and emergency concerns while traveling away from home (we have an AT&T landline).  We chose Verizon because of reports of good wireless coverage and bought a basic flip phone for $99.99 and have stayed within our allowable 450 minutes/month, resulting in a monthly service bill of $43.69.  Actually, we rarely use more than 200 minutes/month, so while reviewing our current service, usage, and costs, we looked at Verizon Nationwide 65 Plus Plans, such as the single line, 200 anytime minutes for $29.99/month, with an overage charge of $0.45/minute.

I then reviewed the Consumer Reports January 2014 issue on choosing the best phones and plans, and I was surprised to learn that Consumer Cellular* was the leader in their satisfaction survey, with top scores for value, data, and support.  According to Wikipedia, in 2014, “Consumer Cellular received the highest overall satisfaction rating in the mobile carrier category of PC Magazine’s 27th annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey…”  I liked reading and hearing that Consumer Cellular has inexpensive plans that require no contract and can be changed anytime without a service fee, operates from the AT&T network, and is the exclusive wireless provider for AARP members (and gives AARP members discounts).  Consumer Cellular* has a low-cost family plan that lets family members share minutes, and calls between phones on the same account are free (otherwise, there are no free mobile-mobile or free night and weekend minutes… See Consumer Cellular’s FAQ webpage).

We are AARP members and make few calls and don’t text or surf the internet with a phone, so a Consumer Cellular Family Plan through AARP made sense to us (text and data plans are optional).  We chose the Anywhere/Anytime 200 minutes Voice Plan, $15/month ($14.25 for AARP members).  Since this is so inexpensive, we purchased two new flip phones, Consumer Cellular Envoy,* for $35/each.  The additional line will cost $9.50/month, so our expected monthly service charge, including surcharges, fees and taxes is expected to be about $26/month, saving us of over $200/year!

We chose both the black and red Envoy phones and had our previous mobile phone number ported to the black phone.  Each mobile phone comes with its own wall outlet charger. We also got two Premium Combo Packs that include a car charger adapter and leather case.  The Envoy phone can provide text messaging and 3G networking, should we want these options in the future.

DSC_0106 Consumer Cellular Envoy

Now we each have a mobile phone that we can personalize with photos, contacts, and MP3 music (the phone is also a MP3 music player and I can add an optional microSD card, up to 32GB).  We can now contact each other whenever we want and can find each other when out shopping, camping, and hiking (in most campgrounds that we visit).

DSC_0126 Cell phones, cases & chargers

Envoy’s two megapixel camera* is adequate for our purposes and will be helpful if an accident occurs while traveling.  I was pleased that the phone has Bluetooth and I learned how to transfer files using Bluetooth,* once the phone and MacBook Pro were paired.  Below is a photo taken with the Envoy phone, transferred to the MacBook Pro’s iPhoto library, and uploaded to this article.

Img11 Envoy image of our Airstream

Cutting our previous mobile service costs nearly in half, while gaining a second mobile phone through Consumer Cellular has resulted in our mobiling more for less.  Now our attention turns to getting our Safari clean and ready to get on the road again* and enjoying our fall camping season and more riveting experiences!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.