Rutting Season for the Big Horns

A couple of mornings ago, while finishing up the last leg of our 24 mile bike ride, Michael and I paused to allow 2 big horn rams cross the road and onto the De Anza Golf Course. At the end of the summer, and because the sheep have run out of foliage and water, they are forced to come into contact with humans and graze on the green in the morning hours. There is a herd of at least 30 now and the rams that are not part of the main group, head down separately and are much more aggressive. Instead of crossing the road, this particular ram marched over to Michael with a glare in his eyes, and if I hadn’t intervened with a hiss to startle him, he would have charged. Michael wanted to know why it took me so long? He was clipped in and had nowhere to turn. They were less than 7 ft apart and the ram wasn’t showing any signs of being shy. I was debating on what to do and thought that a noise was better than a visual. So I hissed like I would with a horse, and he flinched and took off at a trot while butting the other ram in frustration. It is rutting season and hormones are raging. We continued home with Michael telling me he could hear him breathing! They deserve our respect.

When I am posting in my blog in the wee hours of dawn, Callie is by my side and her attempts to distract me from my writing- WORK!

A Day Trip to Yosemite & Drive through Tioga Pass in a Snowstorm

Michael, Lara and I had an impulsive brainstorm that we could somehow find a way to camp overnight in Yosemite Valley without a reservation. We spent the morning making an effort to be put on a waiting list, and then drove over to the one available spot to park in order to hike up to Mirror Lake.

Once we parked the RV and piled out, the three of us crossed the gorgeous meadow over the lovely boardwalk and headed to the lake. Callie stayed behind in the RV and took a much needed nap. All the fun and excitement of travel takes it out of her, and the chance to get some sleep mid-morning, is a treat for her.

Leaving her safely behind, we meandered along Tenaya Creek and I spent a couple of hours taking photographs and walking through the woods with Lara and Michael. It was a beautiful, crisp afternoon, and because Mirror Lake is no longer dredged and pillaged for its ice like it was in the past, it is more of a puddle than a lake. I was still able to capture incredible, reflective images in spite of the low water level, and felt that the hike was more than worth it.

The view was incredible, with light and shadow passing over the rock formations and changing dramatically with each minute. The leaves on the broad leaf trees were just starting to turn golden in color, and there was a hint of autumn in the air. The path is paved and cyclists can now bike up to a parking area before walking the rest of the way to the lake. Rental bikes are available and a lot of people took advantage of the opportunity.

Once we returned to the RV and made an effort to see more of the Valley, we were entangled in one traffic jam after another. Michael was never able to fine a place to park after that, and we decided collectively to head over to Lee Vinning and find a camping site at Mono Lake. Little did I know that Tioga Pass was experiencing an early, fall blizzard, and that Callie was going to be able to watch the snow blow past on the dash. She didn’t know whether to be excited or freaked out as the windshield wipers were activated.

In spite of the crowds in Yosemite, it is still a beautiful place to visit. I recommend taking the time to get a reservation though, and I don’t recommend driving an RV around. Take advantage of the numerous shuttles that are available and plan a long day of exploring. It was just too difficult this time to find a place to park, and maneuvering the RV from one spot to the next, became a chore! Fortunately, Michael, Callie had I had visited the valley last summer and didn’t feel too disappointed, and Lara was a good sport about it and didn’t complain.

Happy Thanksgiving

I have been living in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park for a year and a half now with my husband and cat, Callie. I have learned to respect and value the plants and animals that call this place, their home. Big horn sheep, roadrunners, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, quail, bobcats, turkeys, coyotes and many more survive and sometimes thrive here. In the springtime, wildflowers are prolific if there has been enough rainfall. If not, the ocotillo still attempt to bloom, regardless of whether the leaves find enough moisture to fill out. Sometimes you see the ocotillo as thorny sticks, rising to the sky with one bright orange blossom balanced at the tip. It takes guts and determination to live and survive in such a harsh environment.

But it can also be a breathtakingly beautiful place to bike and hike in during the fall, winter and spring. I witnessed the “super bloom” this year and was able to go on an extended, RV road trip in order to escape the summer months of intense heat. I am so grateful for that! Living in the desert can be difficult and if not for my writing, biking, hiking and photography…. I would have fallen into despair.

I would like to wish a heartfelt and very Happy Thanksgiving to all of my valued readers. May this year be filled with health, personal growth, peace of mind and happiness. It means so much to me that I have people like you, taking the time to read my blog posts, and taking an interest in the life I am living out here in the middle of nowhere!

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!

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!

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.

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.

A Beautiful Day of Biking in Borrego Springs

The weather is finally starting to cool off, and bike riding in Borrego Springs is a treasure to behold! There are very few cars out on the road in the center of Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, and as I have always like to say- in the middle of nowhere.

Wildlife viewing is abundant and there are very few hills. The conditions of the roads vary according to tax payer dollars and some of them like Henderson Canyon, can be quite poor. The extreme temperatures here in the desert are hard on the asphalt and they heat up and crack. In spite of the road conditions, this area is by far my most favorite place to bike.

Heading west on Di Giorgio – you pass a plant nursery that specializes in herbs, and the smell of basil and rosemary, fill the air with a delicious scent. Several orange groves have been left fallow this year, and it breaks my heart to see these trees die an agonizing and slow death. I wish they would cut the trees down right away. The good news is that maybe citrus growing has lost its appeal here because of heavy water usage and the price of water has gone up! We have a deep aquifer out here, but because growers have unlimited use of wells, the attitude is starting to change and people are complaining about it.

Coyote Canyon is at the end of Di Giorgio, and there is a Swainson’s Hark viewing station and counting bench where you can watch these magnificent raptors when they migrate through from Argentina and Mexico, on their way to Oregon, Washington and as far away as Canada. They are capable of hunting in midair, and it is fascinating to watch them capture Hawkmoths that have morphed from caterpillars to really large moths. These moths help pollinate the Sacred Datura, so the circle of life, not always fair, continues. The caterpillars can be so abundant here that they cover the street on their way from one side of the desert to the other. The plants that have made it through the summer and winter, grow fast and flower right away, only to be mowed down by insects, and the insects fall prey to the birds.

Swainson’s Hawks can have a wingspan of over 4 ft and are large, stocky fliers. They travel in what is called a “kettle” and circle the air currents high up above in large numbers. It is a world event when they pass overhead from February through April, and attract birders from all over!

As we biked around the De Anza Golf Course, who should I see but the 4 hen turkey sisters that came through my backyard during the summer. They were pecking seeds off the newly planted golf course and are always looking out for one another. These gorgeous creatures constantly talk back and forth, and it amazes me that they have traveled down from the surrounding mountains and are calling the harsh desert, home. I would think that coyotes would capture them because there are so few trees in which to roost. Maybe it is all the tamarack wind breaks that ranchers plant. These rows of large, leafy bushes are tall enough to shelter these birds. They have survived through the summer though and look healthy. What a joy it is to see turkeys in the wild. They are so smart and alert and make our domestic turkeys look rather pathetic.

Roadrunners are abundant too, and we usually spot at least one coyote straggler in the mid morning before it heats back up, trotting into Coyote Canyon to sleep off the rest of the day. Biking is a pleasure and very rewarding here in the desert during the spring and winter months. I can only imagine that in the years to come, this will become a much desired biking destination. We have one bike rental and repair shop on our teeny tiny Main Street shopping mall called: Bike Borrego. The owner, Dave, is a really salty character, but very knowledgeable about bikes and has serviced ours, frequently. Visitors coming to Borrego Springs can rent a Cannondale for less than $50.00 a day.

The tourist season has started again and Borrego Springs opens its restaurants and shops and people start to appear from everywhere. The home owners like us, who have survived through the heat of the summer, usually flee in June and come back in October. We were fortunate to head out this summer in our RV with Callie. Last summer we hunkered down and marveled at how anything survives out here!

The Roadrunner

The fascinating thing about roadrunners, is that they are members of the cuckoo family. They are born to run and can outrun a human being. Roadrunners can take on a rattlesnake, eat mammals and insects and are very territorial. These cheeky birds mate for life, but live solitary lives until the springtime comes, when the male and female will join forces to build a nest together in order to raise their young. Roadrunners survive in some of the most inhospitable environments and have made Anza- Borrego Desert State Park- home. You can see these birds racing down the side of a road, or if severely threatened, will take to the sky in short bursts of flight.

One day last winter, Michael and I were biking along Borrego Springs Road toward Seely Ranch- a grapefruit, date and orang farm, when we spotted a roadrunner sitting in the middle of the road. I biked passed it and did a double take because it was staring off into space and didn’t react to the sight of me cruising by. When Michael also biked past him and he once again didn’t react, I knew something was terribly wrong and we circled back over to check on him.

He was breathing rapidly, with his beak slightly open, and looked dazed and confused. I thought to myself that it must have been hit by a pickup truck that had passed us on the road a little while back. We both got off of our bikes and I knelt down to get a closer look. There was no blood or obvious harm, and the only thing I could see that was wrong, were maybe a few feathers misplaced on the upper, right hand shoulder.

I stood up and ran over to the grove to get a long stick and went back to the roadrunner and gently nudged the stricken bird. I chose a stick because of all the photos I had seen of roadrunners leaping up in the air and grabbing rattlesnakes with their beaks. I didn’t want the roadrunner to fly up in my face and send me running in alarm! It didn’t leap up in my face, but only reacted just enough for me to continue prodding it while I carefully guided it off the road. If we would have left him there, he would have been hit by the next vehicle that drove past.

Once I got him over to the shoulder, it continued to pant with its beak slightly open. I stayed with him, and after awhile, his eyes started to clear and he slowly came to his senses. I continued to speak softly to him just to make sure he didn’t go back out into the street. After 5 minutes or so, the poor thing shook his head in dazed confusion, but then looked me square in the eye before taking off at a lopsided, but much steadier lope, back down the row of orange trees. By the time it disappeared into the trees, he appeared to be almost normal again.

The truck must have just barely clipped him as he was dashing across the street; just enough of a blow to daze him, but not enough to cause any lasting damage. I have seen this happen to me, when a roadrunner dashes across the street and I have narrowly missed the bird. Roadrunners are incredibly adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert and smart enough, and tough enough not to get hit by cars very often. I have never seen one dead on the road.

And this reminds me of the rascally roadrunner that has claimed my backyard as his own, and visits almost daily. If he so much as spots Callie looking at him, he will let out a prehistoric screech and start running over to her.

This scares the living daylights out of her and she tries to play it safe by sitting on the inside of the screen door. Even that isn’t a safe zone for her though. He has actually gone so far as to come looking for her inside of the house if the door is left open. Now that is one, tough, bird!

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.