Bighorn Sheep revisited

Agua Caliente lies in the Anza-Borrego Desert at the eastern end of Vallecito Valley at the foot of the Tierra Blanca Mountains in Southern California where seismic activity created a spur of the Elsinore fault enabling water to come to the surface, which supports lush plant life and a wide variety of wildlife including the Bighorn Sheep.  Minerals come up in the hot springs forming mounds of natural salt licks.

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Bighorn sheep are on the federal list of endangered species and seem to be making a comeback in this area.  An Agua Caliente County Park Ranger said there are about 13 of them here, so I was excited to have my first close encounter when I took a hike during our last camping trip and spotted four of them,

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or more accurately, they spotted me.  They prefer to graze on rocky ridges and slopes where they can spot and escape from predators.

I stopped in my tracks and quietly prepared my camera and spent the next forty minutes in their world.  We saw eye to eye.

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As long as I moved slowly and peacefully, they seemed comfortable in my presence.

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They came down to feed,

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and smile.

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Poet, artist, and author Marshal South, along with his family, lived on Ghost Mountain for years before they spotted a great ram while hiking near here.  Marshal reported this experience in his article, Desert Refuge 41, December, 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:

As the dark body broke from the fringe of brush and leaped upon the lower rocks of a precipitous hillside not 30 yards distant, we saw that it was a great ram… a monarch among sheep.  In that flash instant in which poised upon a boulder, he glanced back at us before starting upward; he was a sight to stop the heartbeat… he halted, appraising us.  Then he started up, bounding swiftly up the almost perpendicular ridge with a sure footed skill that gave a deceptive illusion of leisurely ease… he reached the crest.  Here, silhouetted against the hard blue of the sky, the tall sharp line of a dry mescal pole rising beside him like a lifted standard he paused again.  Silence held the desert – and us – as for perhaps 20 seconds he stood outlined against space: A creature of freedom, gazing out across the rocks and ranges of his homeland in whose beetling cliffs and hidden canyons still some trace of dwindling freedom lingers.  Then he was gone.  The skyline was empty, and our hearts came back slowly to normal beating.

(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.)

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Contemplating time at Yaquitepec

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It is now the dead of winter.  One winter storm follows another, even here in the desert.  Heavier desert rain this season is a good harbinger for a prolific, early wildflower season.  Just a few weeks ago we saw lush, green growth and the bright red flowers of the Ocotillo in Hellhole Canyon.

There is already a hummingbird nest with two eggs in our California Bay Tree just outside our den window.  We are in the middle of the third rain and windstorm this week and rain is expected through Saturday.

Each morning we peer outside our window to see if the nest survived the storms and each day we are amazed that the brave and dedicated mother is still there, hunkered down over her eggs.

During my last visit to Marshal South’s home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain, I thought about the bravery of Marshal South and his wife, Tanya, in choosing this desolate site for their experiment in desert primitive living and in raising a family here.

I contemplated about their experiences as recorded by Marshal South in his over 102 articles and poems written for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948.*

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At one point the South’s windup kitchen clock failed and I was mesmerized by Marshal’s story of the making of his sundial and his reflections on time, as written in his Desert Diary 10 — October at Yaquitepec:

“So again, in peace, with neither tick nor tock time marches on at Yaquitepec…”  (Allow time to slow as you savor reading this.)

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“and the unhurried, silent shadow moves round and round on the chisel-marked granite block that stands on the terrace.”

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“… It wasn’t originally intended to be a sundial.  In the beginning it was part of a crude homemade grain mill.  But another mill superseded it and in the course of time the upper millstone of the discarded apparatus was broken.  Then one day the old clock folded its hands at 4:33 and we were without the time.  Which didn’t matter much, for ‘time’ is an illusion anyway.  But there is a sort of habit to the counting of it.  So I resurrected the nether millstone with its central iron pin — which was a long iron bolt cemented into a hole in the stone — and set forth to make a sundial.”

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“… It was winter when I made the sundial and I still have chilly recollections of ‘shooting’ the North Star through the old gun barrel, lashed to a post…”  “There are teeth-chattering memories too of leveling and wedging and sighting under the chill starlight as I arranged the granite block on a big boulder pedestal in the exact position necessary…”

“… Our sundial works.  Sometimes it proves, when checked against the haughty mechanism of expensive visiting watches, to be fifteen minutes or so out.  But who would worry about a little thing like 15 minutes’ error?  Certainly not here on Ghost Mountain, where there are no ‘limiteds’ to catch and where the golden sheen of the sun wraps the desert distances in a robe of glow…”

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“… and dim mystery that is timeless.”

“What is Time, anyway?”*

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Great thinkers have contemplated about time over the ages.  (See video of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity illustrated here.)

This is food for thought and, with a little champagne (and appropriate music), I’ll muse on and contemplate the passages of time and other mysteries of life and the universe.

*(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.)

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.

Ocean breeze

Surf’s up and cool ocean breezes are zipping up and over our South Carlsbad State Beach bluff campsite where we enjoyed a break from the desert heat. We camped for four nights on the edge of a 3-mile long bluff, where we were bathed in the continuous sounds of the wind and surf. Seagulls sailed by, both inside and outside the trailer.

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Seagulls by John Perry

The area of Carlsbad was once inhabited by the Luiseno Native Americans who had a village near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon which was a resting place for Gaspar de Portola and Father Juan Crespi on their expedition up the coast in 1769 to establish outposts and missions for Spain. In 1883 the Santa Fe Railroad passed near here and land was opened to homesteaders and real estate speculators, including John Frazier who tapped an artesian spring yielding mineral water which was thought to be curative and likened to the old Bohemian spa of Karlsbad (in Czechoslovakia).

Five miles north of Carlsbad is Oceanside, where Marshal South, once known as Oceanside’s Poet Laureate, met his wife-to-be, Tanya, whose parents were orthodox Jews from the Russian Ukraine and emigrated to New York in 1906. See an image of Marshal and Tanya’s “honeymoon accommodations” while camping on an Oceanside beach in 1923.

Marshal South probably would have found our trailer accommodations interesting even though he apparently had no desire to use or generate electricity at Yaquitepec. Here at South Carlsbad State Beach we are self-contained and, with our two solar panels, we generate more electricity than we use during the day, even through the marine layer. Typically by late morning each day our AGM batteries are 100 percent at 13.5 volts.

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If we did a lot of this coastal camping, a portable wind turbine could possibly take advantage of the almost constant ocean breeze.

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We found that this South Carlsbad bluff is really the turf of the California Ground Squirrel.

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 Their accommodations are underground burrows on the other side of the fence and their favorite activities are surveying the campers and obtaining campers’ food and water. Bungee cords were used to secure outdoor items that contained food or other items of interest.

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A family of nearby squirrels paused for a moment and seemed mesmerized by Larry’s ukulele playing and singing.

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 More beautiful sunsets and summer breezin’ are just around the corner.

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Desert heat

We celebrated Earth Day by returning to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a five-night stay.  We arrived in warmer than usual temperatures for this time of year, which gave us a chance to see how well we could keep comfortable if we camped in the desert later in the season. We had full hook-ups at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and used our Safari’s air conditioner extensively for the first time. This and other strategies enabled us to keep relatively comfortable, even when the outside temperature was 100 degrees.

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Our desert heat is usually a dry heat that I tolerate rather well. I sat under one of our three trailer awnings (which also help to keep the trailer cool when the wind is not gusting) and sipped on a cool one.

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Marshal South described desert heat in his article, DESERT DIARY  7, July at Yaquitepec, (August 1940 issue of Desert Magazine):

Heat! And the distant phantoms of mirage. Desert summer is with us now and Yaquitepec shimmers in the heat of a midday glare that is thirstily metallic… Nowhere but in the desert, and in summer, can you see such magnificent cloud effects as those which tower into the hard, turquoise sky above the heat-dancing wastelands.

(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.)

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Upon arrival, the first item that I connected was shore power so that we could start running the air conditioner. Our original 30-amp power cord that came with the trailer was starting to pull loose at the male connector end. We recently replaced it with with a heavier duty Marinco 30 Amp Right Angle Locking RV Cord Set.

On an earlier camping trip here we noticed that the campground’s water pressure was overcoming our water pump’s check valve and the fresh water tank filled and water was seen trickling out of the overflow drain on the side of the trailer.  We found, that by hooking up a water regulator gauge, the incoming water pressure could be monitored and adjusted to prevent this from happening.

Once we were hooked up to shore power, we were pleased that our new 3-stage Xantrex  XADC 60A Converter/Charger worked perfectly and quietly. (Our previous two Parallax converters failed). See how I installed it: “Parallax Converter Replacement with Xantrex“, on Airforums.com.

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The desert heat prompted us to convert the trailer into a comfortable cave.

dsc_0047-insulation-leds-copy.jpg We closed the curtains, blinds and Vista View window covers. Larry made covers for our two Fan-Tastic Fans from Reflectix insulation that he cut to size and then sewed the edges together. (Our forward Fan-Tastic Fan has a reversible switch, so we have the option of pulling in cool night air at one end of the trailer and blowing it out the rear end, if we didn’t want to use the air conditioner or if we were boondocking.)

Our cave was brightened by new Warm-White LEDs that Larry installed. They use less energy and run cooler. He replaced the ceiling, over-the-stove and reading lights with LED lights (G4-WHP10-D, T10-PCB-WHP9, and G4-WHP15-T respectively) that are now available in a pleasant warm-white light from Super Bright LEDs, Inc.  See details and photos of his installation in his post, “LED ceiling lights“, on Airforums.com.

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Those hot-to-touch Halogen reading lights now feel only slightly warm with the Warm-White LEDs, which is very much appreciated when camping in the desert heat, and as a bonus, colors look truer.

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More images and notes about our LEDs appear in this Airforums post.

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Earth Day was brightened in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park not only by the blazing sun, but also by the flowering Palo Verde tree, also called “lluvia de oro”, which is Spanish for “shower of gold”…

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Reminding us that the real desert heat is still to come, and hopefully, with more gorgeous blue skies.