There were rainbows over San Diego and snow fell on the Laguna Mountains, but the Anza-Borrego desert night sky was filled with stars the night before Bert and Janie drove down from their winter camping spot at Pegleg Smith Monument to visit us at Agua Caliente County Park in Southern California. Writer/photographer/Airstreamer Bert Gildart and his wife Janie are from Montana and have produced a number of guide and nature books such as Bighorn Sheep: Mountain Monarchs. His beautiful articles are seen in most issues of Airstream Life magazine. Our last hike together was New Year’s Day 2010 for an evening photo shoot of Marshal South’s home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain.
The nights were chilly but our Safari Airstream trailer was warm and cozy inside and festively decorated for the holidays. Before we left San Diego, Larry had made a Christmas tree (in the style of ones seen in Pennsylvanian German settlements in 1747) for Bert and Janie using materials from our garden, including Juniper, Rose hips, and Bromeliad bloom spikes.
It was a glorious sunny morning when Bert and Janie arrived with good cheer, smiles, and a large bottle of California Chardonnay wine.
We happily chatted as Larry served hot cider, homemade panettone and carrot-raisin oatmeal cookies. This is Bert and Janie’s first time here, so I had fun introducing them to the park, the Marshal South connection and its beautiful hiking trails. They joined me on a late morning hike on Moonlight Canyon Trail, where I photographed Peninsular Bighorn sheep last January. A third of the way into the hike, Bert pointed up and smiled.
We spent the next 30 minutes at this spot photographing 5 Bighorn sheep that were grazing on the nearby ridge.
Bert was in his element. See his photo of the above scene in his posting, “Christmas at Bill & Larry’s.”
Seeing these mountain monarchs this close is like finding gold. Perhaps Janie helped our fortune by recently adding 10 rocks to the Pegleg Smith Monument, honoring the legend of Pegleg Smith’s lost gold. Bert turned to me with an expression of true joy.
After a two-hour hike, we returned to camp and enjoyed Larry’s homemade Cajun pork stew while conversing over myriad subjects of interest. At a certain point, Bert got up to stretch and whispered to me with a boyish smile, “Do you think we could go back out on that trail… I could bring my bigger lenses and strobe light equipment and photograph the California Fuchsia we saw… and maybe the Bighorn sheep might still be there!” So Bert and I took off like a couple of school kids on vacation. I saw and photographed more of Bert’s photographic artistry, which will be seen in an upcoming post. We returned just as the sun went down behind our nearby mountain ridge, quickly bringing cooler temperatures.
We thanked Bert and Janie for their good cheer, insight, company, genuine warmth and understanding… especially as we approached the shortest and darkest day of the year, winter solstice… and for helping us drive the cold winter away.