Turkey in the Desert

It seems almost unfathomable to me that turkeys can survive in the desert, but as harsh as it is, last spring I counted 5 turkey hens, and now there are only 2, trying to survive in the harsh desert. Still, that is pretty amazing and probably about right for any hatchlings survival. I believe they are the same turkeys that I spotted earlier and the two of them that are still alive, are sticking close together and appear to be in pretty good health. They were panting like most birds would do in the desert heat, but when they spotted me watching them, they sprang into action and trotted out into the wilderness. The five hens must have somehow traveled down from the higher elevations of our local mountains and learned to survive a very different environment than the grasslands and oak trees from where they came from. Turkeys have specified territories and maybe overcrowding was a factor and these birds sought out the wide open space of the Mohave Desert, but only as a last resort. I don’t think the desert would be their first choice of territory though.

There are a lot of insects out here, but very little grasses and green plants. They have learned to hang out at the De Anza Golf Course when they have to search out water, and that is probably the most important thing for them to learn. The grains and seeds that they would normally eat are far and few between, but maybe the sage offers sustenance. Turkeys are capable of short bursts of flight and this area has just enough trees for them to roost in and escape from predators. The first time I spotted the five sisters was over by Seley Ranch and that is where I also see a lot of coyotes and bobcats when I am out biking. These two girls seem to be pretty smart though and are fully mature. All they need now is for a tom turkey to discover them so that a family can be started and raised and a new species can call this vast desert their home.

Photographs of Rancho Cuyamaca Wildlife

I promised as soon as I returned home and had internet service again, that I would upload photographs I took with my Nikon D70s camera. Well, we returned home today and the first thing I accomplished was to download and edit my telephoto photos. I have a long way to go as far as quality of shots, but it is a start. The birds and deer are at least recognizable but the lighting is poor and the subject matter somewhat blurry. It wasn’t easy having Michael haul the camera equipment in a backpack on his back when we biked, and wildlife doesn’t stay still and pose for you, but it is a start and I shall improve.

We saw Blue Herons, Bald Eagles, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Tailed Deer, Canadian Geese Kildare, and wild turkeys. It was fun and exciting to off-road bike on all the trails, and my great big gigantic bruise from falling off of my bike and landing on a rock is a little less sore today, but growing in size. It was worth it though and I would do it all over again if I had the chance.

It is 110 in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and we will be packing up and heading toward Mammoth in about a week. Looking forward to a higher elevation, cooler temperatures, and green pine trees all around.

Off-Road Biking at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

I finally took a mean spill yesterday on my bike at the Soapstone Fire Trail as I was climbing up and banking into a sharp right-hand turn. My front tire hit a rock and I ever so serenely and dreamlike, lost my balance and in slow motion, started to fall to the right and up and over my bike. I didn’t have much time to panic and I thought to myself, no big deal, but when I landed in the bushes, there was a pointed, jutting boulder hidden from view and my right thigh took a direct hit. It hurt and I gasped from the searing pain but after pushing the bike off of me, got back on and pedaled in search of Michael who was in front of me and oblivious to the accident. I casually let Michael know that I had fallen, but didn’t make a big deal of it until we got back. There were still many miles of trail to go, so I ignored the pain and fortunately, the adrenaline kept me going.

I will spare my dear readers the details and the photo my husband took of the bruise, but suffice it to say, it is by far the biggest bruise I have ever had the pleasure of wearing. It is larger than my hand when my fingers are spread out, is the color of a rich and dark, burgundy wine that has spilled across the side of my thigh, and very swollen today. I am icing it and did manage to ever so bravely get a bike ride in this morning, but I feel just a little more restrained and a lot more subdued today.

Every time we head out on the trails though, I am rewarded with glimpses of wildlife and that more than makes up for all the falls I have taken lately. The other day I ended up on my back in a large patch of prickly foxtails, and when I was finally able to stand up and brush myself off, I had foxtails piercing me everywhere. My shoes, socks, pants, and shirt, all had multiple foxtails buried in the fabric and ready to be transplanted in foreign soil. No wonder this particular grass flourishes so well, it hitchhikes on every unsuspecting creature that happens to cross its path!

Michael and I have spotted deer, hawks, bald eagles, turkeys, herons, red-winged blackbirds, Canadian Geese, coyotes, ducks, cormorants and much more. Swimming is not allowed, only boating and fishing, so maybe that is why the wildlife is so abundant here. Hunting is permitted on Sunday’s and Wednesday, but I haven’t seen any evidence of hunters as of yet.

Callie is having a fabulous time and appreciates the wide open space and cooler temperature. We are heading back to the desert tomorrow to get some work done, but are planning a trip to Mammoth as soon as possible.

Justify – a Triple Crown Winner

My dear friend Dolly believed that Justify would win the Triple Crown with ease. All the so-called experts claimed that Justify would be too tired and because he drew the #1 post next to the rail, this great big stallion would be at a disadvantage. Well, Dolly proved them all wrong. Justify broke first and held the front position for the entire race, and even pulled ahead of the pack at the finish line. Dolly would be beside herself if she were still alive today to see this history in the making. A second Triple Crown winner in just 4 years, and only after a painful, 37-year drought!

Bob Baffert is an incredible trainer and the jockey, Mike Smith, is one of the oldest jockey’s, who at age 52, is still racing thoroughbreds. While horse racing has its dark side, the ones that make it to the top, live incredible lives and as a 3-year-old stallion, he will be retired soon to breed and enjoy some well-earned relaxation. Justify is a great big chestnut stallion with a bold white blaze down his face; Mike Smith says he has so much presence and is an old and wise soul. He stood so quietly in the starting gate that Mike thought he might not break and be interested in running a race competitively. Boy did this 3 year old prove everyone wrong.

Dolly, I wish you could have been here to celebrate your uncanny ability to pick winners. At least I captured a photograph of you with American Pharoah, your other Triple Crown choice. California Chrome almost made it winning 2 of the 3 races. Shared Belief was another favorite of yours but he died tragically and way too young, of colic. Your heart broke just a little when that happened. Thanks for all the good times we shared together talking about horses. You and Justify proved all the naysayers wrong!

Love,

Joan

Catwalk

I had the best day yesterday and it did so much for my well being. The bike ride and dinner last night at Wynola Pizza in Julian, where we were able to watch the Warrior’s win their 3rd game in Cleveland, topped off the night. We sat at the bar because of the TV and our waitress and bartender, Addie, who is 7 months pregnant, suggested the Caesar Salad. We chose the Vegetarian Pizza, which was wood-fired and topped with awesome cheese and delicious mushrooms and a variety of fresh vegetables. Aiedie insisted we order the chocolate torte for dessert, and it was out of this world. The salad dressing is home-made as was the pizza and torte. The dark chocolate torte was so rich and creamy and filled with walnuts and whipped cream, that I practically died and went to heaven. I highly recommend this restaurant if you are ever up in the quaint town of Julian.

This morning, Callie demanded her catwalk so we harnessed her up nice and early and headed for the lake. She has a passion for picnic tables because she can then hop up and make herself comfortable as she takes advantage of the elevated view. Once she is settled down, Callie closes her eyes and inhales all the delicious scents and revels in the tall grasses and flowers that are so abundant. There are still a lot of wildflowers blooming since we visited in spring and the climate is very mild with a steady cool breeze blowing. The cottonwoods shimmer and the dark purple ornamental plum trees offer color and shade. It is really paradise after the heat and dryness of the desert.

We are staying through the weekend and there will be a 100-mile endurance race special event along the Soapstone Trail that we biked on yesterday. We are taking it easy today because of yesterday’s fun-filled and packed day. The RV is so comfortable and we have an unobstructed view of the lake and Stonewall Mountain. No one is here yet but the crowds are expected tomorrow and throughout the weekend.

Blood Sweat and Tears

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary. I met Michael when I was only 21 years old and he was 31. It has been 40.5 years since our very first date. We have been through so much together, and have somehow managed to stay in love. People ask me what the secret is and I can honestly answer that respect, forgiveness, appreciation, gratitude and a good sex life is the key. We both feel a special connection and bond toward one another that somehow gets us through the difficult times. I am still astounded that my first pick for a husband was a winner. I have 6 sisters, and they too have managed to make their first and only marriages a success story. We had incredible parents that passed on the wisdom and strength it takes to keep a marriage alive and well. What it does take I now know, is blood, sweat, and tears, and in my case, the journey has been well worth it.

We got up at the crack of dawn, and after taking Callie for a lovely walk, we loaded up the Nikon D70s camera and three lenses into a backpack. Michael’s new contribution to my well being is to haul all the stuff around on his back when we bike and hike. It is heavy and burdensome and I have been lazy and relying on my iPhone camera in order to take photographs. Now that I have upped my game and joined 500px, I need to improve the quality, clarity, and focus of my subject-matter.

Biking rapidly, we didn’t even get past the partial island here at Rancho Cuyamaca Park before a flock of wild turkeys came into sight. Two toms and 7 hens were crossing the grasslands as they headed toward the lake, with the boys stopping and displaying their tail feathers periodically while they gobble gobbled noisily as they followed the hens. I chose to take a series of turkey photographs with my iPhone before I used the Nikon camera just in case they took off. Next, a Great Blue Heron was spotted fishing intently on the other side of the bridge and I was able to take a few photos of this handsome bird with his reflection in the water. We then headed into the wetlands and I captured Red-Winged Blackbirds singing melodically while clinging to tall reeds that swayed in the gentle breeze. I watched a coyote hunting for just a few seconds before it spotted me and took off at a quick lope, glancing back nervously as it ran toward the shelter of the forest. I was not able to get to my camera fast enough for the coyote.

But the grand finale’ of all, were the Bald Eagle pair, perched majestically and way high up in a pine tree at the edge of the lake directly above me. One of the eagles flew off when it was disturbed, but the other one hung around just long enough for us to get off of our bikes, grab the telephoto lens out of the backpack, quickly switch out the macro lens, and with hands trembling in excitement, take aim and shoot. I did not have a tripod with me and the lighting was poor, but I was able to take about 7 images. I can’t download these photos until I have internet service, but I am hoping that they turned out.

Once the second eagle flew away, we hopped back up on our off-road bikes and did the entire Soapstone Trail loop all the way back into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Sunrise Highway. We think it may have been a total of 20, rough and steep miles and it took us about 4 hours. Exhausted and happy, I feel really appreciative that Michael carried my camera equipment for me and that we saw so much wildlife on our very first attempt. With the iPhone, I would have only been able to take itty bitty images of faraway animals. The telephoto images may be grainy because of poor lighting, but you will at least be able to recognize and see the pair of famous Bald Eagles that have made Lake Cuyamaca their home. I will continue to improve with practice again and have already learned that you carry the camera with the telephoto lens already snapped on and ready to go. The macro lens isn’t as time sensitive because flowers won’t walk or fly away. As soon as it is possible, I shall upload the heron and eagle photos, so please stay tuned.

A Difficult Road Traveled

Grief is a difficult emotion to pocket. It spills out and pours over you when you least expect it. A memory flashes across your mind and floods you with feelings. Every morning at sunrise, I would text Dolly a rise and shine message and she in return would comment on Mount Illuminous or Callie. She always appreciated me reaching out and checking in on her. In hindsight, I am blindsided at how much suffering she felt and endured and kept it all to herself. I am so glad she isn’t suffering anymore. Having been laid off at the age of 65 and with little social security and the high cost of healthcare in the United States, she felt hopeless.

We made it up to Rancho Lake Cuyamaca yesterday before noon and escaped the grueling heat and arrived to temperatures in the high 70’s. What a difference compared to 109! I drive the RV with Callie at my side and Michael drove the SUV. It is only an hour and a half away so having another mobile vehicle will make the trip even better. Our friend, Fred may try and join us.

Callie and I walked to the lake shore this morning and she is so happy to be back. I can still hear Canadian Geese chatting amongst themselves and there are jet black Starlings and Blue-Jays and one nervous Golden Flicker. Red-winged Blackbirds are busy catching insects for their young and aren’t as busy singing as they were in the spring. The Bald Eagle pair have nested and can be seen hunting for fish on the opposite shore of where we are camped. Fisherman are catch and releasing the female Big Mouth Bass that are getting ready to lay eggs and they are flirting with the males to help fertilize them. These girls reach 16 plus pounds and are caught in shallow water. Once a photograph is taken, they are put back into the water with tails thrashing and gills gasping. It is unlawful to keep them at this time, so it is rather interesting to observe the patience and determination of the fisherman. They use rubber trout for bait that in and of themselves are 10 inches long.

After Callie’s photo opt, she and I walked slowly back to the RV with her taking alternate turns sniffing the flowers and grasses and rolling in the dirt. It is such a big change from the desert. Michael and I will go on a bike ride mid-morning and that should perk me up a little. I still feel flattened by Dolly’s death, but time should heal the pain.

Letting Go of Sorrow

It is time for me to let go of my sorrow and accept that Dolly and I will never text each other, talk on the phone, laugh, cry or hug again. What I can do though, is remember the good times we were able to spend together and to feel gratitude for what a fabulous friendship we did share. Dolly and I were soulmates, no doubt about it, and we always talked about growing old together. I guess that won’t happen now but I will think of you often and focus on the good times.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park will have a high today of 109 degrees. That is just way too hot for outdoor activity and we are packing up the RV and heading back up to Lake Cuyamaca. I am so excited about off-road biking again in cooler temperatures. It will only be a high of 77 degrees and that sounds marvelous to me.

Callie is more than ready to hit the road again too and loves hanging out in the RV. The fresh, cool air and outdoor wilderness will do my heart and soul a lot of good. I am looking forward to getting away.

Dolly and American Pharoah

Dolly had a passion for all things horses. She loved them and followed Thoroughbred horse racing and the Arabian Horse Show Circuit with such enthusiasm, that it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement alongside her. I met Dolly when I boarded my unbelievably charming, Arabian gelding named Champagnne Flight at Acacia Arabians. She couldn’t afford to have a horse of her own, but instead, always volunteered as a show hostess and did grooming and other such things; anything to be around these magnificent animals.

When I lived near her in Encinitas, California, we would sneak behind the scenes and check out the latest racing star at the Del Mar Race Track. Dolly knew how to act important and pretend that she belonged at the stables with the trainers and jockeys. She had an uncanny ability to pick out winners and knew most of the older jockeys by name that had been around for awhile. Dolly would say hello and shout out support and compliments to both horse and rider, while I would trot around behind her with a camera around my neck and snap photographs. I actually got blisters on my heels the first time I went there with her because she was so animated and thrilled to be at Del Mar, that we walked from one end of the racetrack to the other.

Dolly turned me on to the fairytale story of Zenyatta and how she loved the camera and her large, mare ears would point and follow the crowds of adoring fans as she posed attentively for her audience. She is a large, bay mare that could hold her own with the boys, and when she would head toward the racetrack, Zenyatta had a big, bold, extended foreleg walk that emanated royalty. When California Chrome raced, we were at the Del Mar track and she was screaming and yelling encouragement and I too got caught up in the moment! American Pharoah was another favorite of hers and she knew he would be a Triple Crown winner. She loved the Candy Ride lineage and tracked the fillies and colts that started to come of age. For Dolly, it was an obsession. Justify was her latest favorite star and she called him a “monster of a horse” and was so excited when he won the first two races of the Triple Crown series. Bob Baffert was one of her favorite trainers and the jockey, Mike Smith, said hi to her personally when we were at Del Mar. Justify will be a very tired horse for the last of the Triple Crown races coming up soon, but wouldn’t that be amazing if he were to win?

Rest In Peace Dolly, I shall follow Justify and the Belmont race and be thinking of you as the big chestnut colt thunders down the track. It was awesome watching him win the Preakness when he jumped over imaginary trucks in the driving rain and deep, wet mud. When he finished the race and came in first, he hardly had any mud on him. He is a talented and sweet-natured stallion. We texted back and forth during the race and were overjoyed when he won.

I will miss you every day but am at peace knowing that you aren’t suffering anymore. I just wish that you had reached out and shared your pain and concerns with me, but you were not one to complain about anything other than politics. I hope America can right itself again and when I asked you last week about voting, you said you had already sent in your absentee ballot. I Love you, Dolly! When the timing is right, we will let your friends know the place and the date and we will spread your ashes along the beach where the thoroughbred horses used to be exercised in the surf and the sand, and where the sun shines bright and the air is filled with salt and the faint scent of horses and leather and sweat. We will send you off in style Dolly and you will be surrounded by friends who remember your laugh and your smile and your love for all things horses.

Dolly and American Paroah