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.

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!

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 Night to Remember

Last night was Halloween. There are no trick or treaters out here in the middle of nowhere, but I did witness an extraordinary sunset! Usually the sunrises are much more beautiful because the sun sets behind the San Ysidro Mountains and the lighting isn’t very good. When the sun rises, it illuminates the mountains. But last night was an exception to the rule! Watch as the colors change from gold and pink to deep purples and rose tones.

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.