Cuyamaca Mountain high

While high winds roared through Southern California last Monday, causing power outages and damage in Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and dust storms in Arizona,* we were hunkered down in our Airstream Safari 4,200 feet above sea level in a pine and oak forest along the northern extremity of the Cuyamaca Mountain Range on our first full day in William Heise County Park after a 3 year absence.  By the following day, the wind and rain had stopped and we set up camp and enjoyed beautiful sunny weather the rest of the week.

DSC_0021 Heise campsite setup

On Wednesday, our good friends Bert and Janie came up from Borrego Springs for a day of hiking, photography, feasting, conversing and having a good time.

DSC_0039 Bert with new Nikon D800E

Bert brought along his new Nikon D800E.*  Bert and I promptly took our Nikon cameras on a hike on the Cedar Creek Trail, while Janie and Larry enjoyed chatting at our campsite.  As soon as we got on the trail, we were happy to spot a couple of mule deer.

DSC_0042 Deer on Cedar Creek Trail

We enjoyed photographing the rich textures of this oak, pine and cedar forest and delighted in the play of light and shadows.

DSC_0051 Bert shooting bench & trees

We returned to camp just in time for lunch that Larry was preparing:  Caldo de Mariscos (based on a recipe by Chef Rick Bayless*), a medley of squid, catfish, shrimp, and baby Bok choy (Chinese cabbage) simmered in a tomato-based soup, seasoned with guajillo chilies.

DSC_0090 Larry's Caldo de Mariscos

This savory dish brought smiles to all.

DSC_0094 Lunch with Bert & Janie

This is the second time this month that Bert has been observed slurping the last drops of soup out of his bowl (Japanese style).  The first time was recorded in Aluminarium’s blog post, “Bottoms Up!”

DSC_0096 Drinking soup Japanese style

We sipped on wine and shared our thoughts during this mellow afternoon.  We celebrated our wonderful times together this camping season: at Agua Caliente County Park last October and then celebrating life with a lunch, hike and photo shoot in November.  This truly was a mountain high* and we look forward to many more in the future!

DSC_0201 Mellow afternoon at Heise

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Following stars and gold

Clear starry skies were seen on Twelfth Night, an auspicious sign for our successful return to the Anza-Borrego Desert on Epiphany, also known as Día de los Reyes, The Day of the Kings.  A new study suggests that the Magi, following a star, journeyed from the Far East (China) on a spice trade route, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

(Photo credit: Nina Aldin Thune, Magi, Wikimedia Commons)

Away from most light pollution, we enjoyed the dark desert skies filled with stars.  (See previous article, [Earth] “Once dark, now too bright!“)

We did turn on Larry’s New Year’s display lights for yet another celebration of life, including Epiphany, also known as “The Day of the Lights”.

Epiphany also marks the beginning of the Carnival season, which continues through Shrove Tuesday.  Since this season is also known as “king cake season”, Larry adapted a Panettone recipe by Mario Batali and added candied fruit, rum, and brandy.

We shared this delicious cake with the campground rangers and hosts.

We also fed the hummingbirds, such as Anna’s Hummingbird seen below.

Seen below is a Costa’s Hummingbird, which is typically smaller and, according to Wikipedia, “The male Costa’s Hummingbird’s most distinguishing feature is its vibrant purple cap and throat with the throat feathers flaring out and back behind its head.”

We were also nourished by food for thought in the form of books and magazines, and by listening to KPBS via 97.7 FM Calexico, which brought us the sad news of the death of Public TV travel star and host, Huell Howser.  We have followed Huell Howser’s California’s Gold series for years and have delighted in his enthusiastic visits of people and places up and down California.  View KVIE Public Television’s video, “Huell Howser – California’s Dreamer” and YouTube’s “A Farewell to Huell Howser“.  Huell donated his entire California’s Gold series to Chapman University, which may be viewed on their Huell Howser Archive website, including Episode 148, “Road Trip to Anza-Borrego“.

And so the adventure continues into 2013, and as Huell would say, “California, Here I Come“!

Once dark, now too bright!

It is written, in the beginning… the earth was with darkness, but by the 20th century, urbanization and electrification of the world brought the dawn of light pollution that now threatens our night skies, ecosystems, health, astronomy, and our enjoyment of the stars. (Read about environmental consequences of night lighting in Daniel J. Rozell’s article, “Night Lights – Too Much of a Good Thing?“)

(Photo credit: NASA, NOAA, Earthlights, Wikimedia Commons)

We arrived in the Anza-Borrego Desert to celebrate the winter holidays and had just an hour to set up before we were enveloped by darkness and beautiful stars twinkling in the desert night sky. (Click on the image below)

Many winter festivals and holidays incorporate elements of light as part of the observances and celebrations.  During the early evenings, we lit our outdoor Christmas tree that Larry made from homegrown bamboo.

It lit up the trailer as well, but not enough to obscure the stars.

While writing this post, I became aware of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a non-profit organization with the stated mission of “fighting to preserve the night”.  The IDA is based in Tucson, a city famous for having a strong lighting ordinance to ensure that people use night sky friendly lights.  Their website provides guidelines for outdoor lighting to preserve the night sky and has designated Borrego Springs, California, as one of four International Dark Sky Communities that have met and exceeded their requirements.

The extent of the worldwide expanding communities that emit light at night is revealed in this NASA-NOAA Satellite View of Earth at Night and this Time Lapse View From Space.  According to the IDA, NASA’s new ‘Black Marble’ images of nighttime Earth “reveal that our globe is heavily littered with excessive and wasteful lighting that produces light pollution”.

Earlier this year, writer/photographer Bert Gildart wrote in his article, “The Challenge of Dark Skies“, “Because light pollution is so pervasive, areas of the country endowed with a Dark Sky Status should be celebrated.”  Bert concludes by saying, “Help reduce light pollution and preserve areas blessed with a Dark Sky Status by using your night images to celebrate and call attention to these ‘vanishing’ islands.”

So I join in the celebration of the night sky by presenting the images above, but I must point out that the stars on the horizon are obscured, not by the sunset, but by the sky glow produced by the city of El Centro, 60 miles away!

See and listen to the YouTube video, “Arthur C. Clarke on Light Pollution“.

And, until your next opportunity to see a clear night sky full of twinkling stars, enjoy the breathtaking wonder of the night skies as seen in the YouTube videos, “Plains Milky Way” and “Yosemite Nature Notes – 19- Night Skies 1080p“.

Back on the saddle again

I was back on the saddle again and turned to look back down the trail that curved around and down into the Moonlight Canyon in the Anza-Borrego Desert where I had my first wonderful encounter with Peninsular bighorn sheep in January, 2011. My second encounter occurred when Bert and I hiked this trail last December.  After Bert and Janie’s visit two weeks ago, I was fired up and ready to go again on the Moonlight Canyon Trail.

I got on the trail at it’s eastern side, which allows for a gradual increase in elevation to get to the Moonlight Canyon, and hiked through the canyon without spotting any sheep.  On its western side, the trail meanders sharply up and over the saddle where I spotted a hopeful sign, bighorn sheep scat!

I few more paces onward and I abruptly stopped in my tracks.  Straight ahead of me was a large ewe acting as lookout on a ledge as younger ewes were eating.

Ewes (female sheep) have shorter horns with less curvature than rams (male sheep).  While stopped in my tracks, I quietly set down my walking stick and made adjustments on my Nikon D40 camera with 18-200mm lens.  I then started taking photos and walked slowly towards them.  They disappeared around a bend in the trail and, when I got to where they were first spotted, they were nowhere is sight as I looked down the sloping trail.  But as I looked up the steep slope to my right, I was happy to see that a total of 4 ewes had just gone a bit higher for safety and continued eating.

According to the San Diego Zoo’s “Desert Bighorn Sheep Fact Sheet“, Ovis canadensis are opportunistic herbivores and ruminants, and one of their favorite foods is the Encelia (Brittlebush) seen on this slope.

According to the Bighorn Institute, most ewes have a 6 month gestation period and give birth to one lamb per year, usually between February and April.  The young ewe seen below appeared to be about 8 months old.

According to Wikipedia, Desert bighorn sheep have keen eyesight and “are able to climb the steep, rocky terrain of the desert mountains with speed and agility.”

I spent about twenty minutes with these ewes and I sensed that all, except for the youngest one, recognized me from previous visits, and seemed to accept me, smile, and move about comfortably as they focused on eating.  The youngest one, however, fixed her gaze on me and seemed curious and fascinated by my presence, and I was pleased to meet and photograph her.

I was thrilled to be back on the saddle again of the Moonlight Canyon Trail and see such beautiful and precious creatures…

May we be good shepherds to all wildlife and all of nature.*

*See Author’s note in Comments section below.

Fired up, and ready to go

With a backdrop of fall foliage, our F-250 and Safari were fired up, and ready to go to the Anza-Borrego Desert for another adventure, meeting with good friends, hiking, reading and relaxing, especially needed after this tumultuous election year.

We love the beauty of the desert with its many colors and textures.

Bert and Janie came down from their resort camping location at The Springs at Borrego and joined us for lunch and a day of celebrating Thanksgiving, life, tarantulas, Montana Icons (Bert’s latest book), the 2012 presidential election, and our friendship.

I got another chance to see Bert’s new, lightweight Gitzo carbon fiber tripod (described in “Bert Gildart’s art“) and we took off on a short side trip for another opportunity to photograph the compassionate water tanks that Bert saw and photographed just last month, but they had mysteriously disappeared.

For this trip, I brought along a good book to read, The Presidents Club — Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, and Larry brought along kokopelli noren curtains that he had just made.  We enjoy these curtains because they provide privacy when the door is open, act as a sun screen, and are short enough for the dogs to look outside while the dog gate is up.

Just outside our door, Gambel’s Quail feasted on breadcrumbs in the morning.  At sunset, we fired up our Volcano grill and feasted on shrimp.

I got especially fired up while hiking on the Moonlight Canyon Trail and had a third encounter with desert bighorn sheep, which will be described in my next posting.

In the meantime, we’ll fire up our oven and enjoy roasting turkey as the herbal aroma of Bell’s Seasoning (that I first smelled as a child) wafts through our home, and cherish these precious days!

Happy Thanksgiving!