The Beauty of Dawn

It is another beautiful morning in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. When the sun rises in the east and there are shades of pink in the sunrise, the San Ysidro foothills in the west blush a beautiful rose color. It is my favorite time in the desert. It is also Callie’s favorite time of the day! The birds are singing and the temperature is still tolerable. It looks like the series of summer storms are behind us. Soon the desert will start cooling down.

Desert Storms-Part 2

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is having a series of summer storms in September that build up in the early afternoon with ominous, dark gray clouds forming in the northwest. As they move slowly across the sky, the sound of low emitting thunder, grumbling and rumbling deep in the belly of these clouds, is like no sound I have ever heard before. Instead of a crashing boom after the crack of a lightening bolt, there is just a constant, thrumming vibration as the clouds pile up overhead. If the desert is fortunate, these clouds will give up their moisture and provide life giving water to the plants and animals below. If not, the clouds will move on and pass overhead without releasing so much as a drop of water. The entire desert seems to hold its breath in anxious hope that rain will come soon. And when the rain does come, it arrives in torrents and sheets and all at once. The rain is usually a drenching downpour, saturating the foothills as the water finds a path to lower ground. You would think that the rainfall would immediately be soaked right up and into the sandy soil, but it doesn’t. The water stays on the surface as it turns into a muddy, raging, flash flood and can be quite dangerous to anything left in its path. Because these storms are putting on a display right in my very own back yard, I feel like I have a ringside seat to nature’s  “Greatest Show on Earth!”

Below are a few of the photographs that I took today. Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a beautiful and wild place in which to live out my retirement years. At least for now that is.

Desert Storms

Yesterday late afternoon, a storm built up in strength and power, with heavy, saturated clouds that formed over the San Ysidro Mountains. These rain saturated clouds then ominously fanned out and over the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, casting purple shadows over the desert landscape. We watched as bolts of lightening pierced the darkened sky, and sonic booms of thunder, slowly and laboriously, followed shortly afterwards. It was the perfect condition for a downpour. Behind the house and along the foothills, you could see that the storm was building up strength and moving in our direction.

First you get a whiff of the scent of desert plants being blown around haphazardy. Then the sky darkens and cools as it covers up the sun. Next, a blast of dry, hot, brittle, wind, sends debris swirling up all around you, causing you to close your eyes tightly as you quickly throw your arms up to protect your face. After that, big, fat, cold, raindrops start to fall as you take serious notice and run for cover. And with that, the heavens suddenly open up, providing life giving rain to the parched, dry, desert below. The smell of creosote suddenly fills the air and birds take cover and try to cling to tree branches that are being whipped around in a frenzied circle. Palm trees bend and give into the force of the wind, rather then snap and break in two. The olive trees out back seem to dance and twirl and fortunately are hardy enough to withstand the force of this storm.

We all hung out in the backyard to watch the drama unfold, and Callie showed no fear and was not afraid of the thunder and lightening. Even the rain didn’t seem to bother her too much. When the gusts sent sand and palm fronds, olives and dust her way in maddening swirls and blasts, she raced for the door to watch the storm blow past from the safety of the house. And just as suddenly as the storm arrived, it moved away, leaving a delicate imprint of solitary raindrops on the desert floor.

The storm had stalled, backed up and stayed concentrated over the foothills behind the house. It put on quite a show for us at a safe distance. There was torrential rain for an hour or so, which prompted flash flood warnings to blast from our cell phones. I jumped in fright when the phone sent a shrill warning, but ignored the warning of course. In the morning when we got up, I discovered that the warning had indeed applied to us. Our street was flooded and fortunately the sand and mud was kept mostly at bay with sandbags and small retaining walls.

We live in the aluvian flood plain and are subjected to seasonal, flash floods. Most of the houses on our block have dealt with this before and have been built and rebuilt with potential, future, flooding damage as a distinct possibility. Only one house was damaged this time though. Our house did well and the rock barrier did its job to keep us safe and dry. Another storm is building again today but does not seem to be as powerful as yesterdays.  Such is the life in the desert. I love it.

Just Another Day

I love biking in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There is hardly anyone here until the first of October. You can bike for hours and not see any people. Wild animals are a whole other story though. We watched a magnificent, young male coyote in his prime, with a fine coat of rust and gray, jog across our street as we were heading out. Flocks of twenty or more quail explode out of the brush as we pass by quietly, and the cottontails and jackrabbits dash in front of us, still curious and not quite sure what a person on a bike is. Roadrunners run by and look left and right as they trot along, and are just as funny to look at as the cartoons that depict them.

We biked over to Coyote Canyon on our street bikes today, and passed one of the orange groves that was left to die, and some of the trees still have a branch or two that are green, trying desperate to survive. These trees have been abandoned to save on water and it breaks my heart to watch them die a slow and agonizing death. I don’t care what anyone says, these trees want to live and not to die. They bore fruit for years that this rancher harvested and profited over, and to just turn off the water source and walk away seems unnecessarily cruel and ungrateful. Cut the trees down and harvest the wood, don’t let them die slowly.

Life in the desert is harsh and you pay a serious price if you are under the sun during peak hours without water. People have died out here that are hiking and unprepared for the heat. Every once in awhile you will hear a helicopter buzz overhead, searching for hikers that have not returned as scheduled.

Today is just another day in the desert. The high will be 107, so we have gotten our exercise over with early in the morning and can now relax in a cooled, air conditioned house. What a luxury that animals out in the wild do not have!

Survival of the Fittest

Michael and I are starting to get up early again in order to fit in a bike ride before the sun heats up. Today we went over to Seley Ranch- an orange, date and grapefruit ranch that has been around for generations. The farmers here have water rights and use up much of the natural aquifer. Times are changing and now that water has become such a precious commodity, some growers are letting portions of their crops die. It is heartbreaking for me to watch a grove slowly succumb to the heat and lack of water. I wish they would hire a local worker to cut the grove down right away and dry the wood for later use. I believe that plants have their own form of consciousness, and to die slowly, is a form of suffering that isn’t necessary and I believe, cruel.

The bike ride was beautiful though and I love taking photographs of the desert in its natural state. It always continues to amaze me how each plant that does survive, stakes out a claim and there appears to be some form of cooperation. When you look at ocotillo, they are always spread out uniformly. I have a great deal of respect for the desert and admire the harsh, stark beauty of survival of the fittest.

The desert willow for example is flowering now, and it has been well over 115 degrees several times last week. How does such a delicate looking flower manage to bloom in such intense heat? The flower smells like scented soap, clean and fresh, with leaves that are long, dark green and slender. Soon it will be autumn and who knows what surprise will be in store for me next? I plan on being strong myself- survival of the fittest is the name of game.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is where I now call my home. The park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and Borrego is the Spanish word for sheep. Big horn sheep run wild in this desert and I have photographed them while biking around the De Anza Country Club golf course. It is the largest State Park in California and has been my home for 2 years now.

I met Catherine Loustaunau while I was a 4th grader at Saint Francis de Salles School in Riverside, California. I was drawing a horse of course, and she came over to check it out. It was love at first sight because of a shared passion for all that is horses. We are now middle aged women in our early 60’s. She is a descendent of Juan Batista de Anza and we are still best friends. How amazing is that and that I should happen to live here now? We use to come to this desert park as children with my parents to play among the ocotillo, sage and brittle-brush and to camp over night in a Scotty trailer which was pulled by a huge Chevy station wagon we affectionately called~Charlie! Catherine is the youngest of 5 sisters and I am smack in the middle of 7. I have the awesome distinction of being the youngest of the “big kids and the oldest of the little kids!”

Because Catherine was so much younger than her older 4 sisters, she preferred hanging out with my sister Gayle and me while growing up. We spent many wonderful summers together enjoying such adventures like visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In the photo that was taken by my father, we are in our pre-teens. Catherine is on the far left of the photograph wearing a white T-shirt, I am next to her, and my sister’s Gayle, Janet and baby Jennifer follow on the right hand side. I also celebrated my 50th birthday in Anza- Borrego with 5 of my sisters. I feel a connection to this unique place and I have learned to cope with the extreme temperatures and harsh conditions of a truly magical desert. It is home for me now and I am blooming where I have been planted.

Callie has adjusted well to a new life in the desert too and knows she cannot run free anymore. She needs to be guarded over at all times because of owls, hawks, coyotes, let alone scorpions, black widows, rattlesnakes and roadrunners. Danger comes in many shapes and sizes and I am on the constant lookout in order to keep her safe. I can’t allow her to leave the confines of our yard and she cannot be left out there without supervision. To mind all of these rules is a tall order for a cat. She is a good kitty though and tries not to give me too much trouble.

Today a storm is expected and the possibility of rain, though slight, always brings drama because of the play of light and shadow, cast over the deeply lined Santa Rosa and San Ysidro mountain range.

My backyard is up against the San Ysidro foothills, and for two years now I have been photographing the sun as it peaks out from the east and reflects on the hills in the west. It is something I wake up to with delight and anticipation. I have witnessed rare pink rainbows and gorgeous molten sunrises. Every morning dawns a new potential for an awesome photograph. Today will be a good day for photography while Callie sleeps safely inside and on my bed. I will continue to update photos as the storm passes through.

Incidentally, we had light sprinkles, but no heavy rain. The temperature is a mild 90 compared to triple digits last week. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

It did not rain!

Rain is predicted for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

It is hot and humid this morning, and if you walk outside, it is like entering a sauna. Rain is predicted for tomorrow, with thunder and lightening too! I love storms and hope we will get some rain. Rain is always a nice surprise in the middle of summer, and in the arid desert.

Callie woke up with high energy and enthusiasm toward climbing her beloved olive trees. She loves to climb trees and misses them when we are on the road. Pine trees are ok to climb, but frequently they have sap oozing out of them. The pine sap causes Callie no end of grief. If she gets it on her paws, it takes a great deal of foot shaking and licking to remove it. If she gets it on her coat, I have to put a little hand lotion on the affected area and that seems to remove some of it. So Callie climbed her tree this morning and is enjoying a day spent in an air conditioned house with tiny rainbow prisms flickering over her outstretched body. Both of our air conditioners were on the blink when we returned from our 7 week, adventures with Callie road trip, and it was pretty dismal for the first couple of days. With cooler temperatures inside, it is a good day to be alive!

Spending the Night at Washoe State Park

What a divine place in which to rest your weary bones after a long day of travel. The campground is situated in a high desert, upper Sonoran plateau that is filled with sage, juniper and mesquite. The scent is intoxicatingly delicious. You can hear meadowlarks calling and quail and jack rabbits race through the underbrush as you walk along the trails.

Washoe Lake Campground is 18 miles south of Reno, Nevada off of the 395 and about 5 miles north of Carson City. The lake is very shallow and the water level varies greatly, depending on seasonal rainfall. We were fortunate in that it rained during the night, and it is sprinkling again this morning. Monsoon weather! I haven’t experienced warm, drenching rain, since I left Sedona, Arizona.

I highly recommend this campground. It is quiet and clean and the sites are very far apart. Quiet hours are from 7am to 10:00 pm. People that use their generators must turn them off! That is a plus for me. I love to hear nature rather than campers! Callie slept through the night in a stupor and Michael and I did the same. Going to push on this morning for Yosemite. Tioga Pass, here we come!

Washoe State Park Campground

As soon as the incredible solar eclipse went past the 98% and over to the other side at Crater Lake, we dashed for Klamath Falls and further on to Carson City, Nevada. We want to get to Yosemite next and needed to divide the drive up into 2 parts due to exhaustion. We couldn’t have done better than Washoe State Park Campground. Callie was co-pilot the whole way and is out to lunch now in the pilot’s seat. It has been way too much fun lately!

Callie has a New Tree to Climb

Callie has missed her beloved olive trees, but this morning she discovered an arbutus tree that is growing in front of David and JoAnne's house. It has a wood carving of an eagle with the word "ocean" carved on it. The bark of the arbutus is gold and reddish brown, and the underbelly has pinks and green with yellow ochre much like our eucalyptus in California. The bark curls up and peels off in shredded pieces and Callie took great delight in climbing and sharpening her claws on it this morning. When she rakes her claws into the bark, it spills away in sheets and smells much like cedar shavings. Callie would like one of these trees growing in her yard in Anza Borrego please!