New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec

Bert and I have each been here before, but never at night.  So we packed our gear and took a late afternoon hike on New Year’s Day up Ghost Mountain in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to experience and photograph Yaquitepec and the night sky.

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Yaquitepec is the name Marshal South (poet, author and artist) gave to his adobe house that he built atop Ghost Mountain, where he and his family lived from 1930 to 1947 in an experiment in primitive living.  Some consider Marshal and his wife, Tanya, as the original hippie family.  It was the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people were without money, jobs and houses and went back to the land to survive, some, including Marshal and Tanya, by homesteading.

Years earlier they enjoyed camping trips to this area and loved the peaceful beauty of this desert wilderness, which enabled them to be creative in their writings after establishing a home here.  Marshal wrote articles for Desert Magazine and monthly drove his 1929 Model A Ford 14 miles to the town of Julian to pick up mail and supplies.  Some in Julian considered him an outcast because of his lifestyle.  Even though he painted a frieze for the Julian library, he was buried in the Julian Cemetery in an unmarked grave in 1948 (it is now marked with a headstone placed by his son Rider in 2005).

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Along the way, Bert photographed this Agave plant, called Mescal by Marshal, who used it as a food and fuel source, among other things.

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We started photographing the deteriorating ruins under increasingly cloudy skies.

After four prior hikes up here, I finally found and photographed the Souths’ kiln where they fired their pottery.

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It is located about 500 feet east of the house and was built from the surrounding granite rocks.

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Although it was mostly cloudy, the night sky had pockets of clearing, revealing stars.  Bert lit up the opposite side of this structure with a strobe light and took the image seen in his article, “At Yaquitepec, Atop Ghost Mountain in Anza Borrego, January of 1940 Was a Very Good Year“.  Afterward, he reviewed his photos (below).  Tall agave stalks are seen against the night sky lit up by El Centro, fifty miles away and the largest U.S. city to lie entirely below sea level.

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Bert’s headlamp lit up the yard in front of Yaquitepec.

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Earlier during the magnificent sunset, I reflected on the ongoing return of Yaquitepec to the earth and, like Marshal, I celebrated the life, beauty and spirit of this special place.

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Marshal wrote in his first article for Desert Magazine, “Desert Diary 1 – January at Yaquitepec”, “And New Year is somehow a joyous finale of the glad season.  A wind-up and a beginning.  And it doesn’t matter much whether the wind is yelling down from the glittering, white-capped summits of the Laguna range and chasing snowflakes like clouds of ghostly moths across the bleak granite rocks of our mountain crest or whether the desert sun spreads a summer-like sparkle over all the stretching leagues of wilderness.  New Year’s day is a happy day just the same.”

And, all in all, for Bert and I, New Year’s Day at Yaquitepec was a happy day and a great way to start the new year.

(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in 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.)

Also see Diana Lindsay’s website, MarshalSouth.com, for additional information, articles, images and links.

And see the video trailer of John McDonald’s 76-minute documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment.

Desert Holidays, Part 3

After picking up Medjool Dates and heirloom tomatoes at the Borrego Springs Christmas Circle farmers’ market, we traveled north on Borrego Springs Road to Galleta Meadows.  There have been reports that Gomphotherium have been spotted there, so we brought along The Anza-Borrego Desert Region: A Guide to the State Park and Adjacent Areas of the Western Colorado Desert, by Lowell & Diana Lindsay, 5th Edition, 2006, Wilderness Press.  This guide points out that Galleta Meadows is named for the coarse and stiff Galleta grass (Pleuraphis rigida), that grows in clumps, 2 to 4 feet high, making a good forage plant for browsing animals.

Indeed, as we approached Galleta Meadows, Gomphotheriums appeared to be grazing.

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We parked the truck a safe distance away and consulted our guide.

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Diana Lindsay, in her book (based on her Master’s thesis, edited by Richard Pourade), Our Historic Desert: The Story of the Anza-Borrego Desert, 1973, A Copley Book, writes that millions of years ago, this area was covered with seawater, extending from the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez).  Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (the largest contiguous state park in the United States outside of Alaska) is located in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, a part of the Sonoran Desert.  While crossing the Colorado Desert in 1775, Father Pedro Font recorded seeing signs of former maritime life here, including many piles of oyster shells (see this Fonts Point video).  Many land fossils found in this park date from about two to three million years ago, and include the remains of mastodons, ground sloths, camels, horses, wolves and musk oxen. This is illustrated in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitors’ Center.

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It is also illustrated by life-size steel, free-standing art structures, such as the Gomphotheriums above, created by artist, welder, sculptor Ricardo Breceda and commissioned by Galleta Meadows Estate owner, Dennis Avery, for his property and open to the public.  The area draws many visitors, especially during the spring desert wildflower season.

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These sculptures, such as the Giant sloth below, represent vertebrates of the past that inhabited the Anza-Borrego region during the Pliocene, Pleistocene and Miocene eras.

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Along with mother and baby ground sloth

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And mother and baby camel (Camelops)…

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with a Christmas ribbon on its tail.

See desertusa.com’s video of these sculptures at the Galleta Meadows Estate.

Desert Holidays, Part 2

Borrego Springs, California, is located in Borrego Valley, in an area once named San Gregorio by Juan Bautista de Anza, who led an expedition through here from Tubac, Arizona, in 1774, to find an overland route to bring supplies and reinforcements to the newly established Spanish presidios and missions in CaliforniaBorrego Springs is a small community that prides itself in not having traffic lights. Instead, it has a park-like hub called the Christmas Circle, possibly named because Salvador Ygnacio Linares was born on Christmas Eve in nearby Coyote Canyon on Anza’s second expedition through here in 1775, according to Diana Lindsay in her book, Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications.

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(Seen in the background of the above photo is Fonts Point, named after Pedro Font, a Spanish priest and diarist on the second Anza expedition, according to Diana Lindsay.  This bluff offers a spectacular view of the Borrego Badlands.)

Within the Christmas Circle is a pleasant, grassy community park that presents the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce Farmers’ Market every Friday, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., November to June.

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Farmers’ markets, sometimes called greenmarkets, provide locally grown produce harvested at its peak flavor and nutritional content and, since this produce does not travel far, farmers’ markets help conserve fossil fuels.  The farmers’ market experience has been likened to outdoor markets traditionally held in villages and town squares throughout the world and provides a less rushed opportunity to chat with vendors and shoppers, while one samples local foods and learns about local culture.

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California is the largest producer of food for the country.  How food makes its way to the dinner plate is the subject of an excellent KPBS San Diego Envision 30 minute documentary, “Food”, seen here.

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This KPBS program (along with this one) points out that San Diego produces 95,000 tons of oranges each year, and most of them are shipped to foreign countries willing to pay premium rates for some of the tastiest oranges in the world.  Ironically, most of the oranges San Diegans buy come from Australia, South Africa and Peru because we like our oranges to be seedless, pretty and easy to peel.  Larry and I now prefer to buy our oranges at farmers’ markets because they are sweeter and tastier.

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We are lucky in San Diego to have 42 farmers’ markets.  Find your local farmers’ market here.

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Seen on our holiday dinner table are sweet Medjool dates, shards of Gouda cheese, Garlic and Fine Herbs Boursin Gournay cheese on crackers, sun-dried tomato-cilantro hummus, and strips of Larry’s homemade and very delicious sourdough bread, made following the “No Knead Bread Baking Method“.

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And after dinner, visions of sugar-plums danced in our heads.

Desert coyotes

We camped in a desert oasis that is supplied with water at various times by rainwater draining from the Sawtooth Mountains via the Potrero Wash.  While hiking this wash, I saw many wild animal tracks in the sand, including those of the coyote. (a Naturebytes video).

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The coyote (click here to see photo), Canis latrans, the “barking dog”, is a member of the Canidae (dog) family, has an average weight range of 15-46 pounds, and is found throughout North and Central America.  The name “coyote” is a loanword from American Spanish and is derived from the Nahuatl word cóyotl, meaning “prairie wolf”.  The coyote, known as “the song dog” by Native American Indians, often appears in Native American Indian tradition and folklore and is often portrayed as the trickster (and survivor).

The coyote is a very adaptable, wide-ranging predator with an excellent sense of smell, vision and hearing, and hunts alone, in pairs, or in packs.  Each night at sunset, we heard the first calls of the coyotes, high-pitched sounds variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks, most often heard at dusk and at night.

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We closed the trailer windows against the approaching chilly night air, fed the dogs and got them inside before they could become dinner for the coyotes.  Coyotes have been known to attack pets and livestock.  We also secured trash and food containers with lids and weights (rocks).

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The coyotes usually waited well into the night, when our trailer was silent, before exploring our campsite.  We could tell that they had visited.  Sometimes we could hear their sounds right next to the trailer.  By morning, the dog’s water bowl was empty and marked with coyote urine.  Nearby was a fresh pile of coyote scat, consisting mostly of mesquite beans, which are plentiful at this oasis.

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Coyotes are opportunistic and eat what is available, including the Back-tailed Jackrabbit

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and Gambel’s Quail (named after William Gambel, an American naturalist, who died of typhoid while crossing the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1849).  They inhabit and roost in brushy and thorny vegetation of southwestern deserts.

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The coyote’s adaptability has helped it to survive the encroachment of “civilization” and has led to its success as a native North American species.  Coyotes are now thriving, even in suburban settings and some urban ones, and causing alarm and unease.  Coyotes are causing flight delays at some airports.  Two recent incidents of coyotes biting people at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, prompted the authorization to kill coyotes, resulting in the death of eight coyotes and a public outcry.

Environmentalists believe that coyotes are necessary to maintain the balance of nature (for example, coyotes help control rodents and feral cats).  The coyote is a persecuted predator, according to Project Coyote, founded in 2008 “to create a shift in attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding and appreciation”.

Project Wildlife says that humans need to learn to coexist with coyotes.  Griffith Park is now taking a more positive approach by posting ‘Do Not Feed The Wildlife’ signsAdditional information on the coyote and protecting yourself and your pets is found in these Frequently Asked Questions, presented by DesertUSA.com and in this video.

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Coyote sounds * enhance our desert experience and I always look forward to hearing them, just as I enjoy listening to Peter and the Wolf * at this time of year.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Cuyamaca Indian summer

The summer heat is over and the seasons are changing quickly now, so for us it means the beginning of our fall and winter camping season.  Although it is still too hot for us in the desert, we traditionally enjoy experiencing the fall harvest season in our local Cuyamaca Mountains.

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At the end of last season our trailer got its annual major washing, which was followed with a thorough washing of all trailer awnings.  Just prior to starting our new season, I applied 303 Aerospace Protectant to the seals of our Fan-Tastic Vents, windows and doors to protect them and keep them from sticking.  Then we refilled our propane tanks and checked the operation of all equipment, including the hot water heater, water pump, stove, oven, furnace and refrigerator.  Vent screens were cleaned and the trailer was vacuumed.  Tire lug nut torque checks were done along with checking air pressure and installing tire pressure sensors.  The fresh water tank was topped off and our solar panels were cleaned in anticipation of camping without hookups in the Cuyamacas.

Larry prepared the menus and food, including the baking of the buttery, rich and very delicious French apple tart seen below in its tart pan just out of our home oven to tie in with the seasonal apple harvest festival celebrated in nearby Julian, Ca.

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Indian summer is an expression indicating sunny and warm weather in autumn when the leaves are turning color, often after the first frost, and before the first snowfall.  Days before our outing, Julian’s morning low was 31 degrees and we departed in the midst of a hazardous weather outlook for all of extreme southwestern California.  But within two days we experienced Indian summer in the mountains.

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Besides the periodic California Santa Ana fires, another drama is being played out here and other areas of San Diego’s East County.  Thousands of oak trees are dying from infestations of the gold-spotted oak borer, which may have spread under bark of firewood.  The public has been urged not to transport firewood in or out of the county until more is known about this problem.  Even as we were camping, we could hear dead and/or hazardous trees and undergrowth being cut and turned into chips for mulching areas of the park.

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Some of these oak trees were quite large, such as the one below seen on my morning walk.

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Also seen during my morning walk were a Rio Grande Turkey hen and her two fledglings emerging into a clearing.

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The fledglings foraged while the hen kept a sharp eye on me.

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It had been chilly when I left the trailer for my walk, but when I returned, freshly baked Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits greeted me, along with a very warm trailer (we found no need to turn on the furnace on chilly mornings when anticipating baking with the oven).

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One of a set of small, battery operated LED flickering tea lights (seasonal item Larry found at Costco) is seen in the votive holder above.

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By the afternoon we experienced the Indian summer temperature of 80 degrees.  We used our new Endless Breeze 12-volt fan for the first time and Larry reports that it worked beautifully.

This fan is made by Fan-Tastic Vent and is available at Camping World (we ordered ours online from Fan-Tastic Vent).

It plugs into our trailer’s interior DC outlet.  Maximum current draw is reported to be 3 amps (easily supplied by our solar panels).  It also comes with clips for attaching to pet crates.

Our fall harvest/Halloween dinner table setting included pumpkins, Indian corn (also called maize), a turkey-shaped wicker basket containing Pineapple Guava, and a floral display of Plumeria (guava and Plumeria are from our yard).  The Pineapple Guava is sweet and juicy and is especially enjoyed by our pug, Pau Hoa.

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And so during this golden fall harvest season, we are thankful to be able to return to and experience our beautiful parks with our loved ones, whether we are vividly awake… or enjoying Golden Slumbers.  

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