Crows, murder, and the Julian Cemetery

A damp and chilly fog had drifted in though the mountains and around our Airstream trailer as I took our dogs on an early morning walk and spotted what appeared to be the strange image of an approaching dementor,* which I had first encountered here two years ago.

DSC_0070 Dementor?

It turned out to be one of the many ghosts of trees burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire.  As the morning sun burned off the fog, we enjoyed working on projects and viewing the wildlife around our campsite.  Suddenly, our attention was captured by a murder of crows angrily cawing and swarming* from one tree canopy to another and then we saw it.  A beautiful gray fox walked by, just fifteen feet away.  The crows followed the fox to the Cedar Trail and I followed with camera in hand. As I turned a bend, the fox saw me and dropped a snake that it had just caught.  The crows attention now focused on their next meal, the snake!

DSC_0310 A murder of crows  DSC_0329 Crow with snake

I left the crows to enjoy their brunch, while I returned to camp to enjoy my coffee and read more about Julian’s pioneers as recorded in David Lewis‘s Last Known Address: The History of the Julian Cemetery, complete with maps and photographs.  The nearby town of Julian was once an area where Kumeyaay Native Americas lived as seasonal hunters and gatherers.  During the winter of 1869-70, Fred Coleman, a Black rancher living in the area with his Kumeyaay wife, Maria Jesusa Nejo, discovered gold, and former Confederate veteran, Drue Bailey, homesteaded 160 acres of the land and named it after his cousin, Mike Julian.1  After the gold rush, people found the soil productive and many families chose to stay in the area.2 (View Julian’s colorful history in the KPBS video, “The Town of Julian.”)

DSC_0230 "Last Known Address"

David Lewis’s grandfather, Floyd Erving Lewis, is also included in his book, along with the curious story of Leandro Woods, and both are buried in Julian’s Haven of Rest, Pioneer Cemetery.

DSC_0238 Julian Haven of Rest Cemetery

Robert Y. Allen is also buried here and, the day after Howdy Doody paid his respects, I returned to the Julian Cemetery to find the gravesite of Leandro Woods, with the help of David Lewis’s book.  The cemetery is on a hill overlooking the town and David’s map shows that Leandro Woods is on the NE edge of the new section first used in the 1950s.

DSC_0227 Pioneer Cemetery overlooks Julian  DSC_0387 Newest section, Pioneer CemeterySo I carefully and slowly walked up and down this hill several times without finding Woods’ grave marker.  I did find the grave marker of Susie Coleman Williams, the daughter of Fred Coleman, next to the grave marker of her daughter, Clara Angel.

DSC_0348 S Williams & daughter Clara

I finally did find Leandro Woods’ grave marker, hidden between the large cedar tree and the barbed wire fence on the edge of the cemetery.

DSC_0369 Leandro Woods & barbed wire

David Lewis wrote that Leandro Woods was a Native American ranch hand at the Banner Queen Ranch and taught his uncle, Mike Mushet, how “to be a cowboy”, along with “the ways of the local Indians.”  In 1885, Leandro discovered gold, mined it, and after accumulating several thousand dollars, would throw parties at the Hotel del Coronado.*In 1954, his body was found on the highway embankment, just west of Julian.  In his book, David wrote, “Those who knew Leandro well, knew in their hearts that he was murdered. Leandro was missing two things when they found his body: the money in his wallet and the one thing a cowboy like Leandro would never be without, his favorite cowboy hat.” (page 72)1

DSC_0374 Leandro Woods grave marker


DSC_0243 This cowboy's hat Howdy and I say, “Don’t take this cowboy’s hat!*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

1.  David Lewis, Last Known Address: The History of the Julian Cemetery, Headstone Publishing, Julian, CA, 2008

2. Kathryn A. Jordan, Life Beyond Gold: A New Look at the History of Julian, California, The Journal of San Diego History, Spring 2008, Vol. 54, Number 2

3. Charles R. LeMenager, Julian City and Cuyamaca Country: A History and Guide to The Past and Present, Eagle Peak Publishing Company, Ramona, CA, 1992, page 88.


Happiness in the cool mountains

California desert temperatures are now routinely in the nineties and above, so we and our Airstream Safari chilled out in the oak, pine, and cedar forests in William Heise County Park, 4200 feet above sea level, in the Laguna Mountains that intercept clouds and rain that would otherwise reach the desert areas.

DSC_0009 Wm. Heise Co

Daytime mountain temperatures were in the seventies and we made a point of closing the windows well before sundown to keep the trailer cozy during the evenings, but each morning, we woke to trailer temperatures in the fifties.  Since we were doing non-hookup camping here, we routinely turned on our Mr. Heater Portable Buddy at 5:45am and ran it for two hours, which brought the temperature up to 68-70 degrees.  By then, sun was streaming into the trailer as I savored hot coffee, NPR’s Morning Edition,* and summer reading.

DSC_0028 Coffee and summer reading

By the afternoon, sun was illuminating our homegrown Alstroemeria flowers on the other side of the trailer and had restored our Lifeline AGM batteries back to 100% via our two factory installed solar panels by mid-morning.

DSC_0057 Vista view & Alstroemeria

Mule deer and wild turkeys reside here, along with a plethora of wildlife, which quickly accepted us as part of the local milieu to the extent that at times we felt like we were in a Bambi movie.*

DSC_0153 "Luna Gobblegood" turkey

DSC_0054 Spotted towhee

DSC_0147-2 Acorn woodpecker

Spotted towhee (left),  Acorn woodpecker (right),  Merriam’s chipmunk (lower left) and Steller’s Jay (lower right)

DSC_0253 Merriam's chipmunkDSC_0043 Steller's jay

The goldspotted oak borer* continues to kill trees, which are cut down and its chips provide a natural mulch.

DSC_0075 Larry, Mac & Tasha on chips

As long as dogs are on 6′ leashes, they are permitted on trails here and our corgis love hiking on the Cedar Trail with its lovely oak and cedar trees and benches.

DSC_0081 Bench on Cedar Trail

During our 5-day stay, we had time to work on projects. Larry is seen below making one of four mid-19th century shirts (based on Saundra Ros Altman’s: Past Patterns, #10) for my work at a historic house museum.

DSC_0194 Larry making period shirt

DSC_0197 Larry's sewing (close-up)

DSC_0172 Larry's outfit for Howdy Doody


DSC_0404 Wm dressed for Whaley House

Three years ago, Larry made a new outfit for my Howdy Doody doll that I had as a child.  (The Howdy Doody show started the year I was born, 1947.)

Just before our trip here, I learned that Robert Y. Allen was the creator of the famed Howdy Doody face, was known as “Grandpa Bob” in the nearby town of Julian, died at the age of 99, and is buried in Julian’s Pioneer Cemetery.  So I brought Howdy Doody to pay his respects to Robert Allen on May 19, the anniversary of his death.  His grave marker is just a few steps away from Marshal South’s grave.

DSC_0208 Howdy visits Robert Allen's gravesite

With happiness in our hearts, we returned to camp with one of Julian’s famous apple pies* and celebrated life in the cool mountains and time with Howdy Doody.*

DSC_0246 Bill, Howdy & Julian apple pie

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert bighorn sheep – Part 2

The obvious feature of the desert bighorn sheep is its big horns.  Rams have the largest horns, which are curled and weigh up to 30 pounds (including the skull, according to Mark Jorgensen, in his book and slideshow, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon*), and become especially important in dominance rituals* during mating season.

DSC_0259 Resting ram & annular rings)

DSC_0263 Resting ram (2)

The ewes have smaller, spike-like horns that help protect themselves from predators such as coyotes.

DSC_0244 Ram and ewe

DSC_0290 Desert bighorn ewes

Mark writes (page 73) that ewes use their horns to strike other ewes in competition for food and water, and that they also use their horns to expose the fleshy fruit of cactus, which is then picked out by their lips.

DSC_0140 Cactus chewed by bighorn sheep

Agua Caliente Regional Park was once occupied by residents that planted oleander for its durability, flowers, windbreak and privacy features.  Unfortunately, this non-native plant is toxic and one oleander leaf ingested by a bighorn sheep can be deadly (page 116).  Efforts are underway by the State of California to eradicate oleander from Agua Caliente County Park within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  The plants were cut down and chemicals applied to the stumps, but last month we spotted an oleander regrowing at Agua Caliente site #80.

DSC_0068 Oleander poisonous to bighhorn sheep

Peninsular bighorn sheep were listed as an endangered species in 1998 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife now monitors their recovery* by briefly capturing, testing, counting, radio-collaring and tagging sheep.

DSC_0301 Desert bighorn sheep close-up

While the sheep socialized, I imagined them “talking” to each other, but according to Mark, the lip curl (seen below) is actually the ram’s testing of the hormonal levels and receptivity of the ewe (page 77).

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep lip curl

DSC_0302 Large horns on rams

Not only did the sheep appear contented, I was definitely contented and feelin’ groovy* with our special time together and am looking forward to the next meeting when our camping season in the desert resumes next fall.

DSC_0284 Contented ram

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert bighorn sheep – Part 1

Ancestors of the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) once roamed the mountains and valleys of Iran, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, and Siberia before crossing on ice and land bridges during interglacial periods across what is now the Bering Sea into the Western Hemisphere, says Marc Jorgensen* in his comprehensive book, Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon.  My first close-up encounter and photo shoot with the desert bighorn sheep occurred five years ago and is documented in my posts, “Peninsular Bighorn Sheep” and “Bighorn Sheep revisited.”  My second close encounter occurred last month and is seen below and in a following post.

Coming out of the restroom in Agua Caliente Regional Park in the Anza-Borrego Desert region, I spotted desert bighorn sheep on a nearby hill just above the campsites.  Their color and size blends in well with the landscape.

DSC_0163 Distant view desert bighorn sheep

This herd consisted of 14 sheep that often positioned themselves in different positions to look for danger such as mountain lions, coyotes, and humans that have been seen here.  I slowly and quietly hiked in their direction as they moved down the slope to the lush greenery around the campsites.

DSC_0168 Sheep coming down to eat

They first had a good look at me on the road just as they were about to cross into the campground and had to make a decision on proceeding to food or to safety.

DSC_0177_2 Decision time

I believe some recognized me from the previous encounter and others perceived I was not a threat, so they continued on toward their brunch.

DSC_0182 Crossing into campground

They enjoyed their picnic by the campsites…

DSC_0204 Campsite sheep picnic

until oblivious and noisy campers cut through the sites on their way to soak in the nearby spa and pools.*

DSC_0207 sheep wrapped up picnic

So the sheep crossed back to relax in their own “day use area”…

DSC_0211 Sheep on way to "day use" area

DSC_0223 Sheep in "day use" area

where they posed for me…

DSC_0251_2 Desert bighorn sheep

and then settled down to relax and sunbathe.

DSC_0237 Bighorn sheep group 2


DSC_0235 Ram smiling while sunbathing

I shared in the warmth and happiness of the moment and heard “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy“.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Desert dreams of rain and flowers

I woke up from my dreams to grab my Nikon camera to catch the sun before it bore down on the Airstream Safari trailer, flowers, and bighorn sheep, as a heat wave broke over the San Diego area.

DSC_0307 Heat before sunrise

It was already warm even before the sun pierced the horizon of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

DSC_0321 Burning desert sunrise

Ocotillo leaves and flowers were shriveling up while back at camp, the trailer was making a valiant effort to keep cool by flying its sails and having all windows and vents open and numerous fans running. (See “Desert heat“)

DSC_0149 Airstream sails flying

By early morning an important decision was made to close up the Safari and turn on the air conditioning for our and our corgis’ safety and comfort.  Dogs can get hyperthermia easily as we found out when our corgi Tasha vomited several times late one afternoon, but quickly recovered the next day (See signs of heat exhaustion).

DSC_0010 Larry acesses desert heat

Before it got too hot, we chatted with our neighbors, Bev and George, who were thrilled to see a mother quail and four chicks again this spring (as they had in previous years).

DSC_0446 Quail and 4 chicks

George delighted in showing me the Desert Willow,* Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata, flowers frequented by hummingbirds.

DSC_0015 George & Desert Willow

DSC_0083 Desert Willow flower

The spring desert wildflower season is now winding down, but the Desert Agave, Agave deserti, looked triumphant with its yellow flowers on tall spikes, as I hiked the Moonlight Canyon Trail.*

DSC_0051 Desert Agave flowers

Although bighorn sheep are known to eat agave and other cacti such as hedgehog cactus, they seem to prefer to eat softer textured plants when available.  As the desert vegetation begins to dry up, the bighorn sheep have been seen coming down off the nearby protective mountains and hills in search of food near the campsites.

DSC_0195 Bighorn sheep grazing in campground

After their campground picnic,* they retreated to a nearby hill to rest and talk.

DSC_0303 Bighorn sheep resting

As I gently, quietly, and slowly approached, some of them seemed to recognize me from my first closeup encounter with them five years ago.  The 14 sheep in this herd, positioned themselves to detect danger from any direction, yet seemed perfectly relaxed during my 40-minute photo shoot.

Agua Caliente Bighorn sheep herd (14)

For me, it was like a dream… and a fitting way to say “Goodbye” until we return next season when the cooler air, rains, and flowers return.  I waved to them as I left them to dream of rain and flowers in the desert sand.*

DSC_0111 Red Torch Cactus

Red Torch Cactus, Echinopsis huascha  (Near Agua Caliente Regional Park Entrance Station)

*This is a YouTube video.