I Brake for Tarantulas

Michael and I went on a bike ride this morning over to Borrego Palm Canyon to see what the status is on camping here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We are considering heading to Agua Caliente for a 40 year relationship anniversary and haven’t been able to get anyone on the phone to let us know if the campground is full or not. Borrego Palm Canyon is not full, so that is a good sign for Agua Caliente.

The bike ride to the campground is around 5 miles each way, and when we were pedaling past the headquarters, what should I see but a large, reddish brown and very furry tarantula, attempting to cross the road. I was afraid it would get run over by a car, so I got off of my bike and escorted it across the street. He was beautiful but didn’t have a clue to the possibility of danger, and was just sauntering along while minding his own business. When he got to the other side of the road, I blew on him gently to nudge him safely off of the shoulder and only then did he get all indignant and puffed himself right up and stuck his abdomen in the air while tucking his head and fangs down to the ground. He was a menacing sight to behold. I was very impressed and waited until he headed out into the desert before I got back on my bike.

I can’t help but think of tarantula wasps whenever I see a tarantula. These wasps are very large, sinister, jet black with bright red wings and search out tarantula’s to lay their eggs unsuspectingly on the tarantula so that the offspring can feed off of the living tarantula when they hatch! Isn’t that horrible? So I was glad to see this beautiful spider making its way across the wild desert and there wasn’t a flying insect anywhere in sight to bother it.

Borrego Palm Canyon suffered a lot of damage during the past winter rains, but it is open again and ready for the camping season. The campsites are spacious and for those willing to dry camp, some of them are incredible. The campground only had a few campers out and about and it was so quiet and peaceful. It made me very excited about the possibility of camping again soon myself!

If all goes as planned, I will be joining them in spirit as I camp at Agua Caliente. The advantage of this campground is that there are heated pools to swim in and to soak your weary bones. Trust me on this one, after you reach 60 years of age, your bones will be weary. It is hard to imagine when you are young and fit, but it happens to the best of us. Biking helps ward off the inevitable, but you can’t be in a relationship with someone for over 40 years in length and not be getting old and weary. Maybe the hot pools will revive my aching bones and rejuvenate my tired soul. How could it not? I will toast to that!

Wonder Cat

I have had two distinct moments in my life where my cat has risked death or injury to warn me of potential danger. The first time was when my daughter was a preschooler and was playing outside in a sandbox in the backyard. I give myself credit for recognizing that my cat’s behavior was odd and doing something about it, but never the less, my cat was a hero and held her ground and stayed between a rattlesnake and my daughter.

I went over to investigate because my beautiful black cat named Fanny, was crouched down low to the ground and while staying perfectly still, she was staring intently at the bushes. When I knelt down to see what she was looking at, I came face to face with a 6ft rattlesnake crouched and ready to strike. I jumped up quickly and grabbed Fanny and my daughter so that I could put them safely inside the house. I then called 911 and asked what I should do? The operator called the fire department and 5 men in full armor showed up 15 minutes later.

I assumed that they would relocate the snake, but no, one of the fireman chopped it’s head off with a shovel. I was taken aback by that, but the times were different and not as much emphasis went into the lives of wild animals in your backyard. They handed me the rattle, which I promptly gave to one of my nephews, and served them lemonade and then thanked them profusely for their heroism. As they pulled away in their great big fire truck, Lara and I stood by the curb and waved them off. I then went back to Fanny and praised her for being such a good kitty.

So last night as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed Callie on the floor in a crouched position and she was looking outside at what I thought was the black and white cat. Usually she jumps up to her loft Kong bed, but this time she was crouched under a chair and looking outside very intently. I patted her and closed the curtain and didn’t think much of it until she moved over toward the bed and stared under the bed. When I asked her what she was doing, she gingerly went over to the bed and started to reach out and tap something ever so cautiously under the bed. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something move that was the color of the carpet and it darted into the shadows. I thought that it was maybe a cricket or spider, but thought it best to know for sure and went to go get a flashlight.

When I bent all the way down and laid on the floor, I stared at what was maybe a piece of carpet that had been pulled up. I aimed the flashlight directly at it to see it more clearly and tried to focus on what it could be. It was dark under the bed and the beam of the flashlight just barely lit up the creature. When Callie once again went up and tapped it ever so quickly, I realized that it was a 2″ scorpion and I yelled for Michael to come and help me so that we could kill it! With Callie on one end of the bed and Michael and I on the other end, Michael was able to smash it with the tip of a broom.

Once again, I would rather allow animals to live out their lives, but when it comes to the desert and boundaries, they can’t come into my house. Everything in the desert has survived because of fangs and venom and I do not want to be the recipient of a bad encounter taken by surprise. The tarantula was a whole other story though, and I was happy to escort it back out into the desert. But scorpions, ants, killer bees, cockroaches and other such pests need to go.

So last night was special and I truly have a wonder cat and am so appreciative that I paid attention to her. She clearly didn’t want me going to bed until I checked out what she was guarding. She was not going to let the scorpion out of her sight. She knew it was dangerous or at the very least, a pest that would give me a painful sting and she wanted to protect me. Thank you Callie! I went to bed and marveled at what an awesome cat I have and slept soundly and in peace for the rest of the night. I will still walk around barefoot, but will always heed Callie’s subtle warning!

I did some further research on scorpions and while most have a sting comparable to a bee, the Arizona Bark Scorpion can be lethal. It is flesh toned, loves to invade homes and are small- less than 3″. That sure sounds like the scorpion Michael killed yesterday. I am not sure if they travel this far south, but with climate change, who knows? Better safe than sorry.

The Locust and the Scorpion

I am trying to bike around 20 miles every day so that I can eat whatever I want. I love to eat and can’t stand dieting. Today we did 23 miles and biked past one of my favorite sculptures by Ricardo Brecera. He lives in Perris, California but got his start as an artist here in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park.

His sculptures range from mythical dragons and beasts to bighorn sheep, camels, desert tortoises, sloths, javelinas, horses, sabertooth cats and many more. As you bike or drive around the outskirts of Borrego Springs, you can’t help but notice them.

We biked all the way to Henderson Canyon, Seley Ranch, (Seley Ranch offers free samples of organic- ruby red grapefruit) Coyote Canyon and around the golf course again. It was too early for the bighorn sheep to descend onto the golf course. Now I can pig out and eat ice cream and whatever else I want to eat!

Happy Trails to Us

Callie, Michael and I are getting restless again and plan on taking off in the RV next week some time. It is lovely here in the middle of nowhere, but after awhile it starts to feel confining and that is why we purchased the used RV. It is our escape vehicle!

We flew to Huntsville, Alabama almost a year ago to purchase the RV and we have put 14,000 miles on the Class C Icon since then. We drove it back to California in a little over 2 weeks, and neither of us had any prior experience driving an RV. It handled beautifully and Callie took to it right away. Her favorite spot is on the dash, and as soon as the motor starts up, that is where she wants to be.

Yesterday we took the RV out for a practice run, and today we are cleaning it and I am loading up supplies. We bought 4 new hub caps because we lost 2 of them off roading in the redwoods over the summer. We have had 3 tires fail and one of them actually blew up and tore through the propane line and severed it. It also ruptured the gray water tank and put a 3″ hole in that too! I was driving at the time and was fortunate I didn’t blow myself up.

In spite of all the minor mishaps, we are delighted with our purchase and find that a 24ft Class C is just the right size for a cat and 2 people. Even when our daughter joined us for a month during the summer, we didn’t feel too cramped. So happy trails to us, until we meet again!

Biking 20 Miles a Day

Early this morning, Callie and I woke up to the sound of quail clucking to each other while eating olives that had fallen on the ground under her beloved olive trees. It was windy the night before and the ripened olives were perfect food for all that came scavenging. I have seen mountain bluebirds, roadrunners and ground squirrels relishing them too! The nights are once again crisp and cool and the mornings are clear, with a sky that is a deep and beautiful, powder blue.

Now that the weather has cooled off in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, Michael and I are averaging 20 miles a day on our road bikes. When it gets even cooler, we will go biking- off road to Coyote Canyon. It is paradise for us once again, but for the Bighorn Sheep, they must risk their lives to climb down the mountain to get to the desert floor so that they can graze on the newly seeded golf course at De Anza Country Club. They have run out of native foliage and are forced to graze on the newly seeded grass. It doesn’t hold much nutrition for them, but something is better than nothing. They don’t come down to graze once the rain returns.

The 20 mile bike ride takes us out to Henderson Canyon, Coyote Canyon, Seley Ranch, Borrego Springs Road and back to De Anza. Our last couple of miles puts us in direct contact with the bighorns at De Anza Villas. The sheep have to cross a road that has little traffic on it to get to the course, but even then, they are very skittish and fly across the street at the least hint of danger.

It is usually the collared ewe that steps out first and surveys her surroundings before the rest of the sheep follow. Once the main part of the herd is settled down and are grazing, a few of the younger male stragglers, continue their descent. They have to keep an eye out for “Bob” the dominant ram to make sure it is alright for them to feed. Bob has a broken horn that distinguishes him from the other males and looks much older. I have been watching him rule his harem for at least 3 years now. Some of the other rams look like they are going to challenge him this year though. They seem almost as big as him now, and their horns curl around too!

Once I am finished watching the bighorns, we turn around and continue our ride by doing a figure 8 back to the house. The entire bike ride takes us about 2 hours because I stop and take photographs. Yesterday we watched a bobcat chasing a cottontail near Seely Ranch. As soon as the bobcat saw us, he abandoned the chase and ran back into the dense tamarisk underbrush. We see all kinds of wildlife now that the weather has cooled off and we can once again enjoy a bike ride without getting cooked from the sun.

Now Until the Rains Come

The Peninsular Bighorn Sheep of the De Anza Country Golf Course, will be making their way down from the highlands to the green of our country club until the rains come and new, native plant growth, occurs. They have no other choice but to search out food to eat for about one more month on the desert valley floor.

The dominant ewe has learned to take the herd down to eat every day around 10:00 in the morning. It is fascinating to watch them descend so rapidly and straight down the shear rock cliffs, that they sometimes outrun the falling rocks that are dispersed as they jump. Today it took an agonizingly long time for three young males to get up enough nerve to cross the street, only to be frightened back up a third of the way in seconds flat. They are incredibly fast and agile, and almost silent on thick padded hooves.

Once they feel safe enough on the golf course, the herd of about 30 sheep, settle down to graze for several hours before ascending back up to the top of the hillside where they remain until tomorrow. The sheep do a fair amount of damage to people’s landscaping, and especially to the barrel cactus, but most of us are happy to pay such a small price so that these native species of bighorn can make it through until the winter rains return.

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

In my last post concerning the tarantula, I casually mentioned that I was hoping my sister Gayle and I would be able to see the bighorn sheep while she visited me in Anza-Borrego for my 62nd birthday. We went on a bike ride this morning, and what should we see, but a herd of 30 or more crossing onto the De Anza Golf Course!

First the dominant collared female descends down from the mountainside and stops in the middle of the road to check for danger. She looks back and forth with her ears twitching and eyes darting and seems so wise and knowledgeable. When it is determined that all is safe, the lambs and yearlings follow down cautiously. When the big ram fondly named “Bob” comes up from behind, he can’t help but be noticed as he shows off his magnificent head of horns. He has one horn that has been broken off at the tip and this plus his size and age distinguishes him from the other rams. His head of horns look so heavy and burdensome, that he barely holds his head up. He is also seen doing what is called “snaking” which is an aggressive stance that is meant to drive the herd forward. He looks menacing and very powerful, and the young males and lambs keep a wide birth. The ewe just stood there and let him nuzzle her for awhile before moving on slowly. She has seen it all before and seemed almost bored with his advances. After he checked her out throughly, he stuck his tongue out and sniffed the air while promptly peeing. She had quite an amorous affect on him and it took him awhile before he followed her over to the green grass.

Another big ram that was not as mature as the first ram, but big never the less, came down with a solitary ewe shortly afterwards, and they deliberately ignored one other as they slowly crossed without mishap. Later, my sister witnessed them walk past each other and then hit horns loudly with sideways, glancing blows of the head. There was some play acting and ramming of heads, but nothing serious took place. It will soon be rutting season, as this is November, but for now it didn’t look like much energy was put into it.

How fortunate for us, that we were to be able to see the entire herd move across the street safely and settle down to graze on the golf course at the bottom of the hillside. The golf course is not a good place for these native, desert animals to graze, but it sure filled me with pride and wonder to see them survive in such a hostile environment. They only come down from the mountains when they absolutely have to, and only because their natural foliage has run out. I am pleased beyond words to have seen them today, and to acknowledge that the herd has grown in numbers from last year. This is a good sign that the bighorn sheep in this area are once again stable! It is unfathomable to me why trophy hunters would want to decapitate one of these magnificent rams just for their horns!

A Day of Visitors

Oh the joy of having my “Irish Twin” visit me for my belated 62nd birthday. We have been very close since birth and enjoy each other’s company very much. Turning 62 marked a difficult year of growth and change for both of us.

My sister had to give my aging horse Bella away to a good home because it has been too difficult for me to make the 2 hour drive to her house where she was boarded. Gayle and I have been riding together ever since I moved back to California from Sedona, Arizona, and she bought horse property in Perrie, California. The love of my life, Champagne Flight, a gorgeous chestnut Arabian gelding, lived with Gayle until his passing. I then adopted a Pasofino mare named Mija, a gaited horse that had been abused by trainers and never trusted anyone but me to ride her. And last but not least, Bella, another abused mare that learned to trust Gayle and I before giving her to a couple of young sisters who would take good care of her. I now ride a bicycle instead of a horse, but will always miss our horseback rides together.

Several nights ago, I was able to capture a few photographs of Callie’s midnight visitor, the black and white cat that enrages Callie so much. He is not long to this world if the owners keep allowing him to roam at night in the desert. I wish him the best because he is a gorgeous cat and seems like a very nice animal. He can’t understand why Callie throws herself against the glass and screams and shouts at him. His calm demeanor could make him an easy target for coyotes.

Yesterday while my sister and I were enjoying a glass of wine by the poolside, Gayle let out a gasp, and when my eyes followed hers over toward what she was upset about, there was Callie nose to nose with a tarantula! The tarantula had scaled the wall and was making his way over to the pool, probably in search of water. I rushed over to her while yelling “NO” and Gayle and I promptly escorted the tarantula back out to the desert on a ride on top of my broom. We were careful not to injure it as I helped him escape back out into the desert.

Living in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park is beautiful this time of the year. The hot and dry summer months are finally behind me and I can stay home for awhile instead of escaping the heat in the 24ft RV. I also hope to see the Bighorn Sheep some time before Gayle leaves tomorrow. They are making their way down from the mountains in an attempt to find food until the rains return. The desert foliage has all but dried out and disappeared and the golf course becomes a last ditch attempt to survive until winter. Migratory birds like the mountain bluebird are enjoying the abundant seeds and insects while they make themselves at home for the winter. Callie gets to observe them at a safe distance on the windowsill. The desert is a hostile place to live in the summer, but now with cooling temperatures, my home has become once again paradise.

May my 62nd year be filled with personal growth and that I continue to be creative and contribute something meaningful to myself and to those around me.