Ghost Mountain spring hikes

Plans were already in place for us to spend four nights just below Ghost Mountain, so when Rich L. and family arrived in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with their friends Adam and Susan earlier in the week we were poised to go on a joint hike with them and celebrate their last full day in the desert with a sumptuous feast prepared by Larry.  We had already agreed on a hike to see the pictographs near Ghost Mountain and I was especially interested in seeing the nearby morteros for the first time. Adam and Susan had recently viewed the short film, Ghost Mountain – An Experiment in Primitive Living, shown in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitors’ Center, and they were interested in hiking up to see Marshal South’s former home site, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain. So we decided to do all three hikes in one afternoon.

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(Pictured above are Adam, Susan, Emma, Rich and Eleanor)

Zoe the cat enjoyed viewing the sites from the vantage point of Emma’s day bag while both Rich and Emma kept their eyes open for any curiosities along the trail.

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Bright yellow flower mounds of  Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) are prolific here at Yaquitepec right now. (The Laguna Mountains are seen along with the Mason Valley below.)

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The Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and the Brittlebush brighten Marshal South’s dissolving adobe ruins.

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Desert Agave (Agave deserti) is also very abundant here.  Standing below are two Agave flower stalks.  Native peoples (as illustrated in Marshal South’s frieze in the former Julian Library) once roasted young agave stalks in rock-lined roasting pits for two days which resulted in a sweet, molasses-flavored agave which was consumed.

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Marshal South wrote in his article, Desert Refuge 35, in the June 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:

Mescal roasting is a family affair. Tanya and I find and bring in the sprouting plants that are ready for the baking.  Rider helps dig the pit and fetches stones to line it.  Rudyard and Victoria trot hither and thither, lugging in fuel…  you leave your mescals cooking in their primitive oven for two days… Take a knife or a hatchet and carefully trim off the outer crusting, and the prize lies before you.  Brown and golden and rich!

(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.)

After hiking the mile back down to Rich’s Armada, we piled back in and continued down a sandy road to our next stop, Morteros Trail.  This .25 mile walk leads to an area where Native Kumeyaay women used rock pestles to pound seeds in the bedrock mortar (mortero).

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Along the way we spotted numerous lizards of various colors.  Emma wanted to see a large one so she performed her “Homage to the colored lizard” by repeated bowing with arms outstretched.

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We then climbed back into the Armada and continued down the road to our next and final hike of one mile into Smuggler Canyon to see the pictographs.  Emma’s homage worked because the next lizard that we saw was the largest one of the day.

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We found the rock art pictographs (pictures with applied color, as contrasted with petroglyphs which have pictures etched into rock) on a prominent boulder.  Manfred Knack says in his The Forgotten Artist – Indians of Anza-Borrego and Their Rock Art, 1968, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, this rock art may have been associated with girls initiation ceremonies… The diamond chain or “rattlesnake” may have represented a messenger from the god Chinigehinish (or Chinigchinix), who would punish those who disobey his divine laws… Paintings at the conclusion of the rites of passage reaffirmed the final lessons of the ceremonies.

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So after a total of 4.5 miles of hiking…

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We were ready to find out what Larry had been preparing back at camp just southeast of Yaquitepec.

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In Larry’s own words: “Wednesday afternoon involved preparing dinner while Bill went hiking with our friends. A majority of that time was used to assemble the vegetarian pot stickers and cook the falafels. We found that another picnic table had been moved to our campsite. We aligned them end-to-end and set out a Mexican serape as a table cloth and hung 2 Chinese bamboo flutes with red tassels, which danced in the wind, on the branches of the grove of picturesque mesquite trees. This made for a festive ambiance with plenty of seating and a buffet table for serving. The weather was beautiful with mild breezes.

I had fixings out for salad and/or pita sandwiches, which included falafels, tomatoes, onion, pepperoncini, hummus, tahini, pita wedges, vegetarian pot stickers (which were a favorite), lemonade, poppy seed short bread cookies, and celery sticks. Allowing guests to pick and choose their favorite eats always makes for a successful meal. Our guests (Rich, Eleanor, Emma, Adam and Susan) brought a bottle of wine and a delicious Julian apple pie topped with a crispy streusel topping.”

Larry enjoys researching and preparing food, recipes, and menus that are inclusive and compatible with guests’ dietary limitations.

I enjoyed the food and company so much that I forgot to take out our camera to capture the moment.  Perhaps we can entice the Man In The Maze to post some of his shots of this dinner gathering in his next post.

The desert is blooming

It might be snowing where you are, but it’s spring wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California.  That’s how I started a similar post almost exactly one year ago when Larry and I rendezvoused with Rich Charpentier and Sadira for a celebration of the beginning of the wildflower season and the turning point in Rich’s fortune.  Two years ago Rich visited this area in Borrego Springs and immediately felt happy.  From here he went on to find his happy home base in Prescott, Arizona and establish his very successful career, R.L. Charpentier Photography, and gallery.

Last Saturday we received a report from the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute that the desert is blooming.  We were not disappointed, even our campsite was surrounded with wildflowers.

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The blooms are just beginning and should be prolific this year due to our recent rain.

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Since dogs are not allowed on the trails, we took turns going with Rich on day hikes.  Larry and Rich hiked up Palm Canyon with its many displays of the Brittlebush (big grayish-green dome-shaped bush covered with bright yellow flowers on thin stalks) and the Pink Sand Verbena.  Then on the same day, I joined Rich in his Titan on a drive to Ghost Mountain where we hiked one mile to see the pictographs in Smuggler Canyon.

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Along the way Rich discovered a lizard on a rock.  And the lizard contemplated its options.

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Rich came well equipped with two cameras, an assortment of lens, tripod and waterproof bag.  Rich is gaining quite a reputation for his spectacular HDR images.
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We found the pictographs and my images will appear in my next post, along with more about Marshal South’s and his son’s visit here when they lived at nearby Yaquitepec.

The brief report comes to you from the field, as it did one year ago, complements of Rich’s WI-FI connection.

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More desert trails and mysteries will continue after my next post, Desert blooms 2009.

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Airstream Alley, part three

Hiking our way into the New Year…

Our Alley-not-a-rally had no scheduled activities.  For example, on the first morning after our arrival in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Rich came by and knocked on our open trailer door as I was brushing my teeth by the Vanity sink.  I smiled when I saw him and immediately quoted back to him the first line in one of his posts, “The knock on the door always seems to come at the worst time”.  (Salt Creek Recreation, Joyce WA)  He laughed and announced that David, Ari and their son, William, would be riding with them in the Armada to visit Slot Canyon and Split Mountain and that anyone else would be welcome to follow them.  I thanked him but I said I wanted to spend some time completing the set-up our base camp.

The closest we got to scheduling anything was on the night before the event, we chatted about taking a hike up Palm Canyon and decided that a 9 a.m. time would be doable. The next morning at 8:55 a.m. I saw Rich’s door swing open and he came over and munched on sweet orange slices as Eleanor and Emma got ready, while I put the polarized lens on my camera.  “Hey, let’s go for a hike!”, he said.

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The Palm Canyon Nature trail is adjacent to the Palm Canyon Campground, where we are staying in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and reveals the dramas of past floods that uprooted palm trees and pushed them, along with massive boulders, down the canyon. (Palm Canyon Flash Flood!)  This hiking area is always a wonderful photo opportunity, especially when the wild flowers are blooming (First Field Report).   Ongoing and special events are listed on the Anza-Borrego Foundation website.

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With luck, patience, right timing and being quiet, sometimes Bighorn Sheep can be spotted here.  It seemed we might be in luck.  I spotted Rich, Eleanor and Emma ahead studying an auspicious sign, fresh scat.

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Zoe the cat, in Emma’s day-pack, smelled something’s up.  (Zoe the cat goes with Emma on all major hikes, including Death Valley.   I’m rather skeptical, too, because this is at least my third hike here and I’ve never seen a Bighorn Sheep. I am tempted to think that this is a myth perpetuated by rangers who periodically sprinkle scat on the paths. But, then again, writer and photographer, Bert Gildart spotted 21 of the elusive and endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep here last year. (Note that all, including myself, are observing sun safety by wearing wide-brimmed hats.)

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Even if we don’t see sheep, we know we will eventually be rewarded by the Palm Oasis ahead and its refreshing shade. We just have to decide which way to go. Here Eleanor contemplates going over or around a boulder, while Rich decides to cross the stream.  After a while, it seemed evident to me that Rich was choosing the more challenging way at every turn in preparation for his rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike later this year.  This tested our agility and became a balancing act.

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The Palm Oasis beckoned us on ahead.

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Once under the shade of the oasis, Rich adjusted his camera (Nikon D70 with the same lens that I use, a 18-200mm VR zoom lens).

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We felt at home in the oasis as we relaxed…

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and snacked…

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Emma is showing us her now almost empty box of raisins.  She dug her fingers down into the box and found a raisin to give to Rich.  As he accepted it, he exclaimed, “Wow, I’ve seen peas bigger than this!”, and Emma giggled with delight.  Oops, one raisin fell to the ground and Eleanor reminded her to pick it up so that the ants would not get it.  Later I questioned Eleanor about this and she said she had learned how ants can be damaging to our national treasures, such as the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. Even items like soda and juice are not allowed on their cliff dwelling tours (they could attract animals and insects which could lead to damaging the dwellings).  Beyond this, Leave No Trace philosophy reminds everyone to be responsible for their actions and leave parks unaltered so that they may be enjoyed by future generations.

As we got up to leave the oasis, Eleanor’s hat fell and was stained with mud.  We decided to go up the canyon a bit higher, as Eleanor looked for a waterfall to wash her hat. She was delighted to find one.

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Rich forged ahead and found an even larger waterfall for Eleanor and a better photographic opportunity for himself. But she had to lean dangerously forward and swing her hat into the falls.

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Great fun was had by all!

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Well, we never did see sheep, but we did have a fun and enriching time…

And time for contemplating…

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… crossings and passages.

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Summer flowers and turkeys…

Or Getting Cereus. So after a strong cup of coffee, I was off to hunt turkeys and flowers in the Cuyamaca Mountains.

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With shooting equipment in hand, I quietly approached the direction of turkeys gobbling in the brush. A turkey hen and her poults emerged in the sunlight.

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300 of these Rio Grande Turkeys were introduced here in 1993. There are now up to 20,000 or more in the area.

I continued my morning hunt in William Heise County Park for wildlife or at least wild flowers, and was rewarded by the Lavender Monkey-Flower

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and the Wild Rose, Rosa virginiana

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A festive meal, prepared by Larry, of pork-shrimp bean curd skin rolls, served with beignets rounded off the day. See his cooking page on our web site Dim Sum Safari Express.
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We hitched up and returned home in time to see the Queen of the Night, the Night-Blooming Cereus (Cereus greggii) profusely bursting with sweetly fragrant blooms during the night of Summer Solstice.

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I then sat back and listened to turkey-in-the straw as I contemplated my next article, “Getting hitched”.

Down the shore

Our local mountains are heating up, so its time to take our Safari to the beach, or as we say in New Jersey, down the shore. Although our 23′ Airstream Safari is right at home anywhere we take it, it seems to be especially happy to be strategically positioned on bluffs overlooking the beach where it can enjoy staying cool in the gentle breezes, while its solar panels soak up the California sunshine.

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We returned to our favorite non-hook-up beach campground, South Carlsbad State Beach, less than an hour’s drive from San Diego. The premium sites, adjacent to the beach, usually need to be reserved ahead of time. Most of these sites are now booked through Labor Day. We purposely avoided the noisy and rowdy crowds of Memorial Day and enjoyed four days of listening to the relaxing sounds of the waves

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While watching the pelicans and seagulls glide by at eye level…

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Stairway access to the beach is nearby…

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The beach and adjacent bluffs are quite picturesque…

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Especially when viewed while boogie boarding

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Larry featured homemade Spring rolls, containing pork and shrimp, which were crispy and delicious.

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I brought along good reading material, such as The Digital Photography Book, by Scott Kelby. That, along with the owner’s manual, should help me get the most out of my new Nikon D40 camera.

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This is my first digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera and I am learning to use it in a variety of light conditions. (In the photo below, darkness has already descended, and the site is only lit up by a waxing moon. No flash was used.)

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I’m also having fun using the Nikon 18-200 mm VR zoom lens, in this case to capture one of those aggressive squirrels that frequently got up on our picnic table and nibbled on anything in sight, including our flowers and roll of paper towels.

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I then remembered the cats’ reaction to Tommy and Rich playing their ukes at Anza-Borrego last December, and the ukulele frenzy seemed to work on the squirrels, too!

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