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!

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!

Vallecito Stage Station

Saturday morning Michael and I biked over to the Vallecito Stage Station- about 4.5 miles across the Anza- Borrego Desert State Park along S2 toward Julian. The weather was perfect after several days of wind and clouds and a drop in temperature.

The building that is left standing is a historical landmark and a reconstruction (1934) of the original adobe structure built in 1852. This was an important stop on the first official transcontinental route serving San Diego/ San Antonio (jackass) mail line that ran from 1857-1859. It later became The Butterfield Overland Stage Line and the southern, emigrant caravan route.

Biking over from Agua Caliente on a relatively cool day, left me in awe of these early pony express mail carriers and the bravery of both horse and rider. It is a desolate desert with sparse water, but maybe there was more of it 150 years ago.

The adobe structure is low lying and the walls are thick to keep it relatively cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Acacia trees, ocotillo, sage and creosote dot the landscape along with cholla and barrel cactus. The sand along the wash is deep and must have been very difficult for the horses and mules to gallop across while carrying rider and heavy bags of mail or worse, pulling covered wagons.

I walked around the structure and smiled at how tiny the doors and windows were and what a welcoming sight it must have been after a long, stressful ride across the desert. Wild honey bees were swarming the damp ground searching out moisture and the green belt and wash must have been a welcoming sight after many miles of galloping across the scorching hot, arid, desert.

Biking back was somewhat easier because it had a gradual downhill slope, but we had a headwind that evened out the playing field. We had to get back to our campsite and move before noon because on the weekends, and especially Saturdays, Agua Caliente becomes a party campground. The pools are reopened at night and the campground was completely filled. The ranger was kind enough to place us in site # 68 because I believe Michael was polite and not demanding when asking if we could stay a couple more nights.We were placed in a spot that is not rented out and saved for volunteers or if another camper has to be moved. It was very nice of the ranger to provide this camp site for us. It has a beautiful and unobstructed view of the valley with no one in front of us.

So we will stay 2 more nights before heading back to Borrego Springs. The weather has been wonderful and Callie has gone on several walks over to the Marsh Trail and all around the campsite. She spooked at a cottontail that was bigger than her as it raced passed us and under the cat claw shrubbery. It made Callie just a little bit nervous. I had to soothe her with reassuring words that bunnies are herbivores and would not hurt her. I listened to coyotes howling last night and owls hooting early this morning and love camping in this campground.

View from site #68

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.

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.

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!

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!