In pursuit of Bighorn Sheep

At an elevation of 3960 feet, Indianhead Peak loomed nearby as our Airstream friends Theresa, Bert, Janie, and I gathered at the trailhead of the popular Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail for another chance to see the elusive Bighorn Sheep and a spectacular palm oasis.  Just two days prior, Bert, Janie, and I found a 350-foot long serpent undulating in the desert sand not far from here, so we were hopeful for more good luck as we started our 3-mile hike.

Borrego Palm Canyon is a watershed for the San Ysidro Mountains and has a year-round flowing stream.

A thunderstorm can turn this creek into a raging river that can bring down trees, move boulders, and flood Borrego Springs, as it did in 2004.  Fires can also threaten this area, such as the Eagle fire of last July, which burned more than 10,000 acres as it spread east into the western slopes of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Fortunately, Bighorn Sheep can easily get out of range of flames in the terrain of Borrego Palm Canyon.  Historically, according to Wikipedia, they have been threatened more by hunting, competition from domestic sheep, diseases, and development but are now making a comeback.

I was bringing up the rear of our hiking party halfway into our hike up the canyon when I turned and looked back at the southwestern ridge and spotted a female Bighorn Sheep (ewe) looking down at me.  I whispered to Janie, who passed the word to the others ahead.  I took a few steps back into the shade and began taking photos with my Nikon telephoto lens set to 200mm. I had photographed Peninsular Bighorn Sheep before at Agua Caliente, but I had never seen them in person here before.  As I was photographing the ewe, to my surprise, a much younger ewe poked her head up over the ridge.

It is likely that the larger ewe is pregnant and hungry.  The breeding season, or rut, is in the fall and there is a six-month gestation period.

Bighorn Sheep eat a variety of plants such as mesquite, agave and cacti.

The ewe remained vigilant as she stood on a ledge of the canyon wall covered with desert varnish, while we continued on our hike to the First Palm Oasis.

This oasis consists of a grove of California Fan Palms, Washingtonia filifera, near a running stream.  Oases such as these were habitat sites for the Cahuilla tribe of Native Americans, who ate the palm fruit and seed, and used the palm fronds to make rope, sandals, and baskets.  According to Diana Lindsay, a clan of Cahuilla lived in Borrego Palm Canyon, but abandoned their village due to small pox epidemics and territorial struggles with cattlemen (Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, Diana Lindsay, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, 2001, page 80).

After working up an appetite, we returned to camp and joined Larry and Theresa’s husband Bob for a feast of pork and shrimp spring rolls, pork pot stickers, and Yusheng salad provided by Larry, while savoring our memories of our hike into Borrego Palm Canyon and reflecting on those who once lived there.  (See Bert’s photos and story of our hike here.)


In pursuit of dragons and pearls

There were reports that a dragon has been sighted in Borrego Valley of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, so we set up our Safari in Borrego Palm Canyon and joined writer/photographer Bert Gildart and his wife Janie on a hunt for dragons and other game along the way.  We rendezvoused with Bert and Janie at Borrego Springs’ Christmas Circle and traveled north on Borrego Springs Road.  The topography here reminded me of Ernest Hemingway’s description of parts of Africa where “the country began to open out into dry, sandy, bush-bordered prairies that dried into a typical desert country…” (Green Hills of Africa, Scribner, 1963, New York, page 160).  It wasn’t long before we spotted big game off to the right and we pulled off the road for a photo shoot.

It looked like elephants and camels were here.  Bert started taking photos a safe distance from these creatures, but one seemed to become wary and turned abruptly toward him.

As the space diminished between us, it became obvious that these creatures were actually large metal sculptures, Sky Art, created by sculptor/designer Ricardo Breceda for Dennis Avery’s Galleta Meadows Estate, depicting Gomphotheres, Camelops, and other creatures that roamed here during the Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Miocene eras, millions of years ago.  Larry and I had visited this Sky Art two years ago as seen in my “Springtime in Galleta Meadows” post.

We retreated back to our trucks and resumed our pursuit of fabled quarry, the dragon.  Further down the road, we caught sight of its humps and pulled over to visually take in all 350 feet of The Serpent with a Chinese dragon’s head and rattlesnake tail undulating in and out of the desert sand.  We then respectfully approached for a planned photo shoot.

Janie held the strobe while Bert used his Nikon D7000 camera to photograph Larry wearing traditional Chinese clothing of the late 1800s.  (See Bert’s photos in his posting “Year of the Dragon“.)

Larry wore traditional clothing in the Manchu style of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) such as this long blue gown (changshan), black skull cap with a jade ornament, and hair in the queue style.  (Historical note: “To frighten the Chinese, in 1873 San Francisco adopted the Queue Ordinance, which allowed prison wardens to shave the heads or cut off the long braids of Chinese prisoners,” writes Jean Pfaelzer in Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans, Random House, New York, 2007, page 75.)

Larry used a long bamboo pole to levitate a white Chinese lantern symbolizing the pearl of wisdom and knowledge, which the benevolent Chinese Dragon is fond of pursuing. The pearl also symbolizes truth, enlightenment, wealth, good luck, and prosperity.

The idea for this sculpture began with Dennis Avery.  “Dennis also is keenly attuned to Chinese culture through his wife, Sally Tsui Wong-Avery, who is founder of the Chinese Service Center in San Diego and the principal of San Diego’s Chinese Language School,” writes Diana Lindsay in her new book, Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist, Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2012, page 205.

The arrival of this Chinese dragon is timely and auspicious as we enter the Year of the Dragon, which begins on January 23, 2012.  It’s a time to say “Gung Hay Fat Choy,” and watch the Dragon Dance!

Oh, there is one more thing… the second day of the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration is considered the birthday of all dogs!

Holiday fun with Bert and Janie

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.

Wild horses couldn’t keep us away

Desert wildflowers were blooming and the sun was shining, so even wild horses could not keep us away while record-breaking high temperatures were rolling across San Diego County.  It took longer each day for the sun to dip below the nearby mountain range and bring comforting shade and refreshing coolness to our Safari and us.  During the week temperatures progressed from the high seventies to the high nineties in the Anza-Borrego Desert.dsc_0134-desert-sun-to-shade.jpgAreas of the Anza-Borrego Desert were once part of the ancestral Gulf of California and are rich in fossils, such as horse teeth.  According to Wikipedia, the horse is native to North America and Equidae fossils date back to the Eocene period, 54 million years ago.  Equus fossils, such as those thought to be Equus scotti, have been found in the Anza-Borrego Desert.  All Equidae in North America became extinct about 12,000 years ago, but horses eventually returned to the Americas with Christopher Columbus in 1493 (second voyage).  Some horses escaped and formed feral herds, such as the Mustang.  In 2003, the last herd of wild horses in Southern California was removed from Anza-Borrego’s Coyote Canyon, but efforts are underway to restore the herd amidst much controversy.


We recently acquired this beautiful fused glass art, “Galloping Horses”, by Lyn Feudner, from The Art Glass Guild, part of Spanish Village Art Center, next to the San Diego Zoo.  A closeup of this piece is seen in Lyn’s blog posting, “Fused Glass Horse“, and is based on her sketches posted last May.  It goes well in front of our Vista View window.

Here is what is also new in our trailer.  We found that the Cuisinart CPT-60 2-slice toaster with its wide long slot is perfect for toasting slices of Larry’s homemade artisan bread rounds and fits perfectly in back of the stove when not in use.


It is pulled out onto the mat under the stove hood when in use (unfortunately it is currently unavailable).


This 39″ high Bionaire Tower Fan from Costco has a small footprint and yet produces a cooling breeze inside the trailer when it is not quite hot enough to close up the trailer and start up the noisy air conditioner.

It is remote controlled and comes with a 12″ high Mini Tower Fan.

Eventually, as the week progressed, we did turn on the air conditioner…

and began dreaming about our next camping destination

bluff-top  camping overlooking the Pacific Ocean

where wild horses couldn’t keep us away.


Giving thanks at Agua Caliente

Thanksgiving season is a wonderful time to visit Agua Caliente County Park, a San Diego County Park that is 111 miles from San Diego.  Agua Caliente (Spanish for hot water) is best known for its geothermally heated hot springs, which attract visitors who like to enjoy the pools and therapeutic spa in a desert oasis setting.  There are also spectacular vistas, trails, abundant wildlife, and full hookup campsites.  We are thankful that this park now allows dogs, so we booked five nights and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.


Kumeyaay Native Americans once lived here centuries ago. The first European to visit the area was Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza in 1775.  Miners, pioneers, soldiers and prospectors were thankful for the relatively abundant water supply here after crossing the arid desert.  We were thankful for the view.


The Ocotillo were very green from the recent rains.


We are also thankful for our Safari Airstream with two solar panels and three awnings, which was a custom factory order placed on the day before Thanksgiving four years ago.


Vallecito Mountains are seen in the background of this Thanksgiving table setting.

We were also thankful for the waxing moon, which brilliantly lit up our campsite and surrounding terrain.


The Tierra Blanca Mountains are seen in the background.  The Moonlight Canyon Trail is a 2.5-mile loop near here.

We are also thankful for our two wonderful Corgis, Mac and Tasha, who always enjoy camping.


This has been a brief introduction to Agua Caliente County Park.  Future postings will cover additional information and images of its history, geology, plants, wildlife, trails, and other features.  Hear and see Ranger Kevin Benson give an overview of this park, along with its pools and therapeutic indoor spa, in the YouTube video, “County Chronicles – Agua Caliente Park“.


We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and invite you to listen to the beautiful “Thanksgiving” music by George Winston.