California is Burning

We hit the road again yesterday morning with our good friend Fred, he in his Winnebago, we in the Icon, and headed up the coast to Morro Bay. Callie took her seat on the dash of the RV and off we went in search of adventure. Leaving Anza Borrego Desert State Park for the real world is always a bit of a shock. It is so quiet and surreal in the desert, and driving into traffic and crowds is both exciting and annoying.

Passing through my deceased parent’s retirement city of Ventura was horrific, and words cannot describe the total devastation of much of the outskirts of this beautiful, coastal town of flowers, gardens and palm trees. The family house borders Foothill Blvd, and this is the main street that separated the neighborhoods from the lush and native, chaparral foothills for which it was named. California had an exceptionally wet winter last year, and this led to ample fuel for the fires to come.

Arroyo Verde Park was a verdant green belt that many families and our family visited often. We shared boisterous picnics together under the shade of mature oaks and pines and our children grew up playing in the swing sets and sliding down the slide. My family often hiked to a particularly majestic old oak tree that we fondly called “The Wishing Tree,” and all 7 of us sisters and 1 brother would climb high up into her welcoming branches and silently send out a wish or a prayer, for the cosmos to observe and to acknowledge. It is all gone! Burned to the ground.

The fire has stormed Carpentaria and Summerland now, and the 101 is charred on both sides of the highway. Rows of palm trees are scorched and blackened, and a reminder of just how “massive” this fire is as it continues to burn! The Thomas Fire has taken a firefighter’s life and is still only 20% contained. The firefighters are exhausted after spending more than a week attempting to save people and their homes. It is raging away from communities now, as it burns unchecked into the wilderness. The Santa Ana winds are expected to pick up again today, which will make it hell for everything in its path. All the wildlife fleeing for their lives and the plants anchored in place, this is a nightmare of reality.

While driving through Santa Barbara, miles and miles of beautiful, coastal California is blackened and charred, and the sky is still very smokey. I saw drivers with gas masks on and cars had their lights on in the middle of the day because the sun was darkened a deep, blood red. It looks like a war zone in Toro Canyon, with heavy smoke still billowing up along the mountainside.

We made it to Morro Bay in the late afternoon as the sun was just starting to set. We are camped at Cypress Morro Bay RV Park. This is one of my favorite campgrounds of all time. It is clean and spacious and we sit in a quiet neighborhood with a view of Morro Rock. The streets are lined with festive Christmas lights and unusual twinkly lights that sparkle in a distant tree, and look much like tiny fireflies blinking on and off, in the darkening twilight.

It is all so peaceful for now, and as I write, I can hear the fog horn calling out its melodic warning to sailors and ships out at sea- while the sea lions are barking to one another, obtrusively and comically in the hazy mist. The sun is just beginning to rise and another surreal morning has begun. My wish and prayer for today, in spite of the loss of the majestic oak tree, is that the fires be contained and that California start to heal itself soon. Innocent people have lost their homes right before the holidays, the 32 year old firefighter that gave up his life, the wildlife and vegetation that have been burned to the ground, may this start a conversation on climate change, and that our responsibility to this unique planet should not fall on deaf ears any longer!

This is a conversation that needs to be addressed! Let us try to come together and do the right thing, a scientific solution that will help heal the many who have been affected and displaced, some who have been harmed, and all who have lost their lives. Let this be the moment that change begins. Prayers and wishes are no longer enough to save this beautiful and fragile planet.

Agua Caliente Regional Park

In 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza was the first European to pass through what is now called-Agua Caliente. Kumeyaay Indians had known of the thermal springs and abundant water source long before the explorers, and in more recent times, prospectors, soldiers, and pioneers benefited from this unique desert oasis.

The water source supports plant and animal both and as you hike the numerous trails, you will see mesquite, willow, Washington Palms, cat claw and acacia. Big horn sheep, mountain lions, foxes, bobcats and coyotes make this area their home along with a variety of birds that depend on the life giving water.

Agua Caliente spans 910 acres and has over 140 campsites with full or partial hook ups along with tent camping. There is a caravan area that can accommodate large parties and multiple picnic areas for day use. At this time, there is no phone or internet service and this adds to the overall sense that you are out in nature and away from the trials and tribulations of politics and world news.

There are 3 naturally fed pools and the indoor pool does not allow children so that you can soak your weary bones without worrying about being splashed and the noise level is kept to a low whisper. It is not unusual to see people soaking in the hot water and periodically dozing off. It is very relaxing and soothing to the joints.

The campground is located in the Anza- Borrego Desert, about 100 miles east of San Diego, California. The seismic activity shaped the Tierra Blanca Mountains and created the spur of the Elsinore Fault that runs underneath the park. While hiking the Moonlight Canyon Trail, you will notice vertical layering of decomposed granite that use to rest horizontally. It is a little unnerving seeing what vertical thrust can do to a flat service.

Michael and I biked both the Marsh Trail and Moonlight Canyon Trail. Neither hike was strenuous and well worth it. Both trails take you to the natural springs where you see the Washington Palms and acacia and desert willow flourish.

We are parked in site 100 which looks west and has a spectacular view. Sites- 64, 68, and 67 are coveted view sites and it is ironic that our first time we visited Agua Caliente, we were able to nab 64. When we asked this time whether we could have it and didn’t have a reservation, the ranger laughed. I think 99, 98 and 97 are great locations too. We are farthest away from the pool, and some campers may want to be closer, but I cherish the peace and quiet and a view of the sunrise and sunset.

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!

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!

Tree Climbing Cat

I have never had a cat that loves to climb trees as much as Callie. And she especially loves to climb trees with me watching her. She crouches low to the ground and waits for me to notice before she races up the trunk of the nearest olive tree. When she sees me looking at her, off she goes in a blur of fur! As soon as she gets to where she wants to be, she settles down and surveys her surroundings like the desert queen that she is.

A Sequel to the Sacred Olive Trees

Today dawned golden and bright with a brisk temperature of only in the 50’s. This is the best time of year to be living in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs. Exotic migratory birds like the oriole, tanager and flickers, return for the winter. Packs of coyotes have raised their young and if all goes well, the pups will survive and contribute to the chorus of howls and yips by adding their own little squeaky voices to the early morning mix. The bighorn sheep once again move to higher ground with their springtime lambs and every one of us that made it through the harsh summer, can take a deep sigh of relief. The desert is where I call myself home now, and I am eternally grateful that the heat is once again behind us.

The summers are brutal here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We had a high of 124 degrees F, but because there is a constant source of water that is made available with natural springs flowing most of the year, big horn sheep, bobcat, mountain lions, badgers, desert foxes, quail, roadrunners, many species of birds, jack rabbits, cotton tails and so much more, are able to survive the summer heat.

Fortunately for us, we were able to travel in our 24ft Class C RV during most of the hot summer in order to escape the scorching months of July and August with our cat, Callie and only had to return last week to settle in for the fall and winter season. We will continue to take shorter trips for the fun if it, but the desperation of fleeing the heat of summer is behind us.

Callie has been on an antibiotic for 7 days now for acute bronchitis, which was triggered again when we drove through the horrific fires of Santa Rosa, California. Due to the highway 101 closure, we were forced to dry camp at Salt Point Campground north of Bodega Bay in order to try and get away from the smoke. Fires had broken out all over the map and we were not successful in finding a campground which was smoke free. She started coughing soon after we spent the night there and it became progressively worse the second half of the 5 week trip. Fortunately, I have a good vet in Morro Bay who was able to call in a compound prescription for us and she is on the road to recovery.

This morning was the first day Callie dashed across the back yard in order to reach a fast enough momentum to climb high up on her beloved olive trees. She loves these trees and climbing them is a passion for her. The higher she climbs, the prouder she becomes! It is always a good sign when she throws herself on the trunk of the tree and then dashes straight up until she can climb no higher. It made me feel good too, to see her once again feeling better.

Home at Last

Having to leave Morro Bay and head home to the desert was a mixed bag of emotions. My daughter, husband and sweetest cat in the whole wide world, have been on a month long road trip in our 24ft Class C RV and we got as far north as the redwoods in Eureka. We had a fabulous time except for the smoke and devastation that broke our hearts in Santa Rosa and Callie’s bronchitis returning from inhaling all the smoke. We are so fortunate though and are reminded of how good we have it when others have lost their lives, loved ones, pets and homes.

The drive from Morro Bay to the desert takes about 7 hours, but you have to tack on all the errands you need to run before returning to the middle of nowhere. Food and supplies have to be purchased, and a thoughtful assessment of what one will need for about 3 weeks or so planned out. We are an hour and a half from any decent grocery store and it is necessary to prepare yourself as much as possible before crossing into the desert to get back home.

We managed to return to the house in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and Borrego Springs around 7:30 pm to winds that were blowing strong, with gusts that bent the palm trees and olive trees low to the ground. When there is a rainstorm inland, the desert usually pushes that storm along when the cold meets the hot temperatures. Today the winds are blowing again and I have heard that the coastal areas of Southern California received light rain. Maybe Northern California will get a drenching so that all the fires are put out once and for all.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is cooling off now and today the high is only 78 degrees. We got in an early afternoon bike ride and we have unloaded the RV, done all the laundry and put away all the groceries and supplies. Callie’s cough is improving and she actually climbed one of the olive trees this morning. That is a good sign that she is feeling better.

Being home at last and settled in the desert is a good thing after all. I love the solitude of and the wildness of this location as long as I have good food in the house and plans to get away in the near future! Anza Borrego is a beautiful place to live as long as you don’t have to tough it out during the hot, summer months!

My sister sent me this photo of when I was a young girl. The pigeon was my brother’s bird, but I have no recall of what I was doing with it. To this day, I love animals and riding on my Cannondale Bike!