Jasper National Park

When we left Banff for Jasper Park last week , we had to drive past the Columbia Icefields, and what a spectacular drive it was. The scenery is breathtaking and the rock formations and mountains that were tipped over on their sides like someone had pushed them, is surreal. The sides of the mountains that were once the floor upon which to walk on are now verticle cliffs of tremendous heights. The forces of tectonic plates and the upward thrust to the Canadian Rockies is like nowhere else in the world. Fall is in the air and the aspens are turning gold already and the nights dipped into the ’30s. By the time we left, snow had dusted the Rockies. Callie, of course, took her rightful place on the dash of the RV and watched the beautiful scenery fly by as we traveled to Wapiti Campground.

We have been here since Wednesday and had to take the Tracker in one more time in order to finally fix the problem. The universal joint was the last to be fixed after a new battery and time-up. The little car that couldn’t, is now the car that can. We drove to Moose Lake yesterday and had the unique experience of watching a mother moose come down to the water’s edge with her yearling calf. It was a really special event to watch the two of them snorting quietly to one another as the mother eased into waist-deep water.

I just finished an update on the car, which didn’t fare well after all but wanted to make sure that Jasper got its fair due. It is a gorgeous park, hit hard by the pine bore beetle, but beautiful never the less. We saw lots of elk and bighorn sheep, moose, but no wolves or bears. I would have loved to photograph them. That is ok though.

Lake Cuyamaca

The temperature is really heating up in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, so we decided to get away for the day and meet our RV travel partners, Fred, and Becky up at Lake Cuyamaca. It is less than an hour drive to the lake from our home, and the 110-acre reservoir provides natural air conditioning to the surrounding shoreline and kept the temperature at a comfortable 85 degrees. We sat around the table at the only restaurant that overlooks the water, and this eatery is famous for its chicken pot pies and fresh, fruit pies. You can be seated outdoors on a wooden balcony and hummingbird feeders hang from the eaves and Brewer’s Blackbirds wait patiently for you to finish eating before descending, somewhat mannerly, onto the leftover French fries when you get up to leave.

I pigged out on both the chicken pot pie and the Mountain Berry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with whip cream that was then generously sprinkled with cinnamon on it for dessert. Fred and Becky had the veggie burgers with coleslaw and fries, and that too was fresh and delicious. All of the meals were served in a timely manner and were very delicious. Our waitress was good-natured and accommodating, and even filled up the hummingbird feeders so that I could take photos with my camera. I highly recommend going there because it is also a fabulous place in which to camp overnight in an RV. I have written about Lake Cuyamaca in past posts, so I won’t get into a lot of detail, but just wanted to once again reiterate what a nice place it is to visit and camp at.

The lake provides food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Canadian Geese and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-winged blackbirds, and Great Blue and White herons can be seen fishing along the shore. There is also an elusive pair of Bald Eagles that nest there every year in the fall way up high in the branches of magnificent evergreens on the island. If you are so inclined, easy hiking and biking trails are also available and you can’t go wrong if you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors and escape the summer heat. One can also rent a boat and go fishing or just enjoy bobbing on the surface of the water and checking out the wildlife.

On the way back home, just as we were heading down the hill at San Filipe Wash in Anza- Borrego, a handsome bighorn sheep ram, dashed across the street in front of the car and up and over the rocks. Michael slammed on the brakes so that I could take one photo of him before he disappeared. I was still in the passenger seat with my seat belt on and used Michael’s shoulder for a tripod. I was very lucky he stopped for just a brief moment in time to look around. What a magnificent beast. He was probably searching for water and looked very healthy.

We came back home to Callie sound asleep on her chair and it appeared that she didn’t miss us one bit. We are heading back to the beach tomorrow and had a very relaxing time in the desert.

Moonlight Canyon Trail- Agua Caliente

Michael, Callie, and I left Lake Cuyamaca because of a snowstorm that was moving into the area and packed up for the warmer climate and hot springs of Agua Caliente. The same late storm front was heading toward the desert too, but precious rainfall never materialized. The desert received storm clouds and powerful wind, but no precipitation.

It took less than a couple of hours for us to pull into the county park and we were able to nab campsite #68 which has a view of the east and no one in front of us. Apparently, the hot, mineral pools were filled to capacity over the weekend, but everyone had cleared out by the time we arrived on Monday, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I love it that way, and Callie does too! She can take long walks without worrying about children running up to pet her, or dogs barking at her.

Michael and I took the 1.4-mile hike behind the campground called Moonlight Canyon Trail and we watched as the clouds zipped by and the air cooled considerably. Anza- Borrego Desert State Park and Agua Caliente both received very little rainfall this winter, and sadly, there were only the century plants, ocotillo, sage, and creosote bushes blooming this spring. There is some vertical climb before you reach the ridge, but very doable and the pathway is well marked.

Moonlight Canyon Trail is an easy hike that takes you past the natural spring on both ends of the loop that helps provide fresh water to plant life, sheep, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, numerous birds such as quail, roadrunners, finches, desert wrens, and is a wonder to see the life-giving water bubbling up to the surface even during a drought. As you walk past the palm trees that are native to the area, listen to the buzz of the abundant wild, honeybees as they search for pollen and take a quick drink at the water’s edge.

It is springtime lambing season for the local herd of Bighorn Sheep and I was able to watch the mothers and their newborn lambs scramble down the mountainside to drink from the spring and nibble at the thorny acacia bushes. It looked like slim pickings to me, so I can only hope that the young survive throughout the intense summer heat. One mature collared ewe was followed by a very young lamb who was bleating and racing back and forth on the cliff side and too afraid to follow her into the campgrounds. She was a very experienced and calm mother and the lamb was forced to eventually dash down the rock cliff all by itself in order to be reunited with her as she chomped down on acacia leaves.

I chose not to take photographs of the young lamb once it was separated from the ewe and kept my distance because I didn’t want to add to the poor things stress. The older lamb, a female, I ended up taking close up shots of because she was super bold and curious, and a nightmare for the less experienced mother. This lamb would have marched right up to me if I had let her. I continued to back away from her ever so slowly as she advanced toward me, matching step for step with the mom watching intently from a distance.

We had a fabulous time soaking in the mineral pools, hiking, biking, BBQing and playing cards in the evening. Callie had a blast too! She took several long walks a day with me out into the desert and loved every minute of it. We are back home now in Borrego Springs and she immediately jumped up into her bed on the hutch in the master bedroom to take a nice, long, quiet, nap.

Bone Dry

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park received scant rainfall this year, but two years before that we experienced the super-bloom. It just amazes me to no end how the flora and fauna of desert life survive in such extremes. I hear the pack of coyotes most evenings and once again at dawn as they howl and yip their joy at being reunited once again after a long night, the big horn sheep that come down to the golf course to drink and graze on the grass have moved back up to higher ground, my cheeky roadrunner will stop and look Callie right in the eye if she happens to be outside while he is making his rounds, the Anna’s hummingbird dips and dives and attacks any other bird that comes into the yard, the mockingbird that Callie almost killed when we first moved here is still singing up quite a storm, and I could go on and on.

I biked today around the De Anza Golf Course and took photographs of every bloom I came across. The ocotillo have thrust out their bright orange/red blossoms even if there are only a few pathetic leaves on the stalks, the scrubby creosote have white, puffy blooms that look like cotton balls before they turn a pretty yellow, there is scarce purple desert verbena in small patches, cactus of all kind including a saguaro which is not native to this desert has gorgeous white blossoms on its tall, slender sides that bats, moths, and hummingbirds find irresistible, beaver tail, cholla and yucca throw everything they have left into desperate, ornate flowers, but the plant that gets first prize for putting on the most dramatic and dazzling display this season, is the hardy and thorny, acacia tree.

As I stepped up to each tree cautiously in order to take a photograph, the deafening buzz of thousands of wild, desert, honeybees filled the air as they covered the tree and left me in awe at just how much nature depends on these industrious pollinators. The hardy, wild bees that live in the desert year round are much smaller and darker than their European cousins, and I marvel at how they can survive in the long, hot, summer months? They are also much more aggressive and protective, so you do have to be careful when getting too close to them. So everywhere I looked today, I could see the bright, golden yellow blooms that completely covered the acacia trees dominating the arid landscape. It is a welcoming sight for an otherwise bone-dry desert, with little else that was native, even remotely green as far as the eye could see.

Oh, and did I mention the intoxicating scent of the acacia along with the well watered and pampered, grapefruit and orange blossoms of the farmers groves that are grown here locally? These farmers can tap into the ground water in Borrego Springs for free and use up all the water that they need! That is another story to be told, but the Ruby Red’s, Navels and Valencia’s, plus the seedless Cuties that everyone loves to eat are offered here at local stands and shipped out everywhere.

Callie has been very happy and healthy ever since she was diagnosed with asthma and is also on a special diet for her itchy ears. She loves dashing up the olive tree in the morning and then sleeping the day away, high up on her loft bed. The heat hasn’t arrived in all its vengeance yet, so it is still a hospitable place in which to live. In another month or so we will have to make our great escape with Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C RV, in search of cooler ground.

The Stories just Write Themselves

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t take at least a couple of photographs of poor Callie. Whatever we are doing together, I have my iPhone 7 plus handy and I am always capturing the moment with images of her. I would hate it if someone had the lens turned on me, and Callie sometimes shows great irritation when I have it aimed at her, but for the most part, she is a good sport about it all.

So this afternoon we spent time rescuing wild desert honey bees from the pool and basking under the diffused light of the sun. There is a hazy cloud layer but the temperature is warmer, maybe 82 degrees and the insects are starting to hatch and the gnats which feed the hummingbirds aim for your eyes and nose and ears. They are quite annoying but a necessary part of living in the desert where water has been interjected.

So many wild animals benefit from the water sources of golf courses and the trees and shade that they provide. I for one am not a fan of golf but do appreciate the shade and cover from the sun the park-like setting provides for birds, cottontails, and coyotes, even the bighorn sheep depend on the grass and water before the rains come. There have been times that I am driving at night and I will see an entire pack of coyotes romping along the lush green belt.

Springtime is almost upon us and you can feel it in the air. The days are getting longer and this is probably the best time of year for desert inhabitants. Cactus start to bloom which feed the hummingbirds and pollinators, insects thrive which in turn sustain the flocks of migratory birds and people get to enjoy the mild climate in a paradise setting.

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 the 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 the 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 sheer 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 thickly 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.

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, bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lions, badgers, desert foxes, quail, roadrunners, many species of birds, jackrabbits, cottontails 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 backyard 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.

The Borrego of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

I am fortunate to live among the Bighorn Sheep of Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The population of sheep has been growing steadily and appear to be healthy. It is interesting when hiking Borrego Palm Canyon, you will come across bands of young males hoping to become the next breeding dominate ram. These young males hang around each other a safe distance from the main herd and practice butting heads and improving their skills. It is the dominant female that shows the young where to graze and search for water. The herd that hangs out at De Anza Country Club have quite a few lambs and at least two collared females. The ram has a broken right horn and snakes his head and stretches his neck in and out while nipping at the flanks of his family to drive them forward. When frightened, they can dash up the mountain and are almost soundless as they scramble up the steep cliffs. They are amazingly agile animals and disappear into the background once they stand still. 

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego Desert State Park was named after the 18th century explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and borrego, the spanish word for sheep. ABDSP is the largest state park in California and is home to the Peninsular big horn sheep. I happen to live in Borrego Springs, a small town next to the park, and while biking around De Anza Country Club, I am delighted to encounter chance sightings of the sheep when they are forced to come down to lower elevations when foraging becomes difficult to find. It is usually several collared ewes or females that lead the herd with the young frolicking behind and the big males in the back. Some of the juveniles mock fight during rutting season and you can hear the boom of their horns when they make contact. The bigger more experienced males plod along at the very back as if they have seen it all and try to ignore the pesky young teenagers. The dominant male has a gorgeous set of horns and brings up the rear and is protective and powerful looking. If the ewes stray away from the herd he snakes his head and shakes his horns and forces them to band up tighter. It appears to me that the females have a say in where they will end up foraging, but have to tow the line in staying close together. I try to keep my distance, and always have a palm tree I can duck behind if i am charged. This particular herd looks very healthy and there are about 5 kids, or young sheep that have come down from the higher elevations for the first time and act so  curious. The sheep are searching for the grass on the golf course and I suppose there are mixed emotions concerning them grazing when golfers are trying to play. It is survival for the sheep though. Because of the natural springs in the area, park visitors may see roadrunners, kit foxes, mule deer, iguanas, red diamond rattlesnake, ( one of which I almost ran over with my bike sunning in the middle of the street) coyotes, golden eagles, jack rabbits, kestrels and mule deer. It is an oasis in the desert and is home to the only native fan palm tree.  I have lived here for a year and a half now and after surviving the outrageous temperature of 124 degrees over the summer, I am appreciating the mild autumn. We have experienced two good rainstorms this week and maybe the wildflowers this spring will be abundant. I cycle all over ABDSP and Borrego Springs and have found it to be a wonderful place to cycle, take photographs and enjoy a big sky and lots of sunshine.