The Mohave Indigo Bush

On our bike ride this morning to Coyote Canyon, I did a double take and switched back in order to admire this lone bush filled with beautiful indigo colored blossoms. This is the Mojave Indigo Bush and it was absolutely loaded with flowers and the wild desert honey bees were swarming all over it and having the time of their lives. The buzz was deafening and I respectively took photographs while giving them enough space to do their work.

It is difficult to believe that this wild bush that had received so little rainfall could produce such an abundance of flowers. The color can range from pale blue to the deep, purple indigo blue that this bush sported. It made my bike ride extra special and because it was so windy out due to the thunderstorms in the surrounding mountains, I was a little surprised to capture some of the bees attempting to harvest pollen. When you look closely at wild bees, their pollen sacks are the color of whatever flower they have come into contact with. When I lived in Redlands, California, the bees would have brilliant, golden orange sacks laden with pollen because of the citrus trees.

A Crown Jewel

Michael and I biked close to 20 miles today! That means we probably biked 19, but 20 sounds more impressive and who’s counting! It is starting to heat up in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, but if you get out the door around 7 am and return by 10:30, you will miss most of the intense heat.

We biked up to Di Giorgio and over to Coyote Canyon, took Henderson Canyon to the starting point of the state park, over to Seley Ranch- the ruby red grapefruit farm, back to Di Giorgio and south to the Locust and Scorpion sculptures, returning to the Dragon Sculpture and around the De Anza Country Club Golf Course.

During our bike ride we saw at least 3 different coyotes hunting, numerous cottontails, kestrels, roadrunners, a jackrabbit, common grackles, quail, and doves. It is the tail end of spring and everything is trying to eat or not be eaten before summer settles in with a vengeance. When I watch the cottontails enjoying a moments respite in the bright sunshine, all I can think of is being here and now; they are a good meal source for many of the predators. Watching a bobcat chase one down, only to abort the hunt because we came along on our bikes, this particular bunny was saved to appreciate one more day. As we rounded the bend on the last leg of our journey, I spotted these bright yellow cactus blooms, a crown jewel to me, and the desert willow, which smells just like fresh, clean soap and were covered with wild desert honey bees.

It was beautiful out and now I can start preparing for Lake Cuyamaca as we will try and leave first thing in the morning. There is a thunderstorm predicted for tomorrow and I love storms. It will be windy here, so I am really appreciative that we are heading up to the mountains. Reading about the mountain bikers that were attacked by a male cougar in Eastern Seattle was a little unsettling. I have seen evidence of mountain lions when we bike in Cuyamaca and know that if I were to come into contact with one of these majestic predators, I would not run. The friend that was killed, took off running when his friend was attacked. The man that was attacked watched as his friend was chased down by the 110-pound cat and was able to bike away himself to call 911.

They tracked the cat down and found him standing over the dead man’s body. The cougar was chased up a tree and then shot. You must make eye contact and do what it takes to fight back. Use your bike as a weapon and start swinging it around. Throw your helmet at it. Scream, shout, anything but run. They have more of a right to be there than we do and if they succeed in attacking someone, they are hunted down themselves and destroyed.

Looking forward to my next adventure, and Callie is more than ready to go. She gets bored hanging around the house and loves to travel. As soon as the motor starts up in the RV, she jumps up on the dash and is ready for action.

A Treasure to Behold

I haven’t studied the science behind cactus blooms, so suffice it to say, my mind is blown away in a similar fashion as to when I ponder metamorphosis. I saw a beautiful short animation film on metamorphosis once and it was broken down into simple parts and stages, but nevertheless, when a caterpillar emerges into a butterfly, I choose to marvel at Mother Nature with a sense of wonderment. Just the thought of instinct for one thing; the ability to be born with all the knowledge that you need in order to survive from the moment you are brought into being. Wow! But back to the cactus flowers, how can they produce such outrageously, large and numerous blossoms, with no leaves, and all those wicked quills poking out to protect the vulnerable, water saturated stalks?

So I biked for a couple of hours yesterday morning in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park and there is very little out there that appears to be alive, or at least at a glance, not suffering horribly through this season of so little rainfall. The acacias still have a few golden flowers on them, the century plants, all in tandem it seems, have shot up their asparagus type stalks and another species, the yucca, that supports a plume of gorgeous, white flowers, are far and few between. Some palm trees have flowering bouquets, heavily laden with clusters of tiny white blooms, are humming and vibrating with desert bees. The sage, though struggling and brittle, has managed to support a few silvery blossoms.

This particular cactus, that was so exquisite I jumped off of my bike and took numerous photographs of; this fortunate plant was growing in a tended yard and had the benefit of being watered. It was covered with beautiful, soft pink and white flowers, their edges touched with salmon and burgundy. The wild desert honey bees had discovered this treasure to behold and were rolling ecstatically in the center of the blooms as they collected pollen in an orgy of delight!

As I bike, I look around attentively and it takes my mind off of the effort of pedaling in the heat. I love biking and really appreciate being in the desert where very few people are around and I don’t have to worry about cars on the road. I didn’t pass one vehicle yesterday. The temperature has stayed under 100 degrees, so it is still very tolerable here. We are planning on going back up to Lake Cuyamaca on Monday to continue exploring off-road biking. The trails are incredible there. It’s too crowded over the weekend though. Callie is bored with olive tree climbing and ready for another adventure! She won’t have to wait too much longer.

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.

There’s Gold in them Hills

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has some of the best off-road biking (at least in my limited experience) that I have come across. I thought Morro Bay and Mammoth were incredible, but today’s biking takes the prize. It is really windy again and only in the 50’s because snow is expected on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop us from having a lot of fun. I am so tired of wind, at least here though, it is fresh and cool and it energizes you rather than makes you go insane like it does me in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park.

Michael and I took the Soapstone Grade Fire Road all the way up and over to the Anza-Borrego State Park boundary line and marveled at what a difference a higher altitude can make. Instead of sand and ocotillo, there were golden meadows filled with tidy tips, a petite, yellow flower that blankets the entire meadow in early springtime. Massive oaks lined the trails and evidence of past fires could be seen in the charred trunks of some of the older trees. Stonewall Mountain has some very powerful storms and it isn’t uncommon for trees and sometimes people to be struck by lightning.

Having biked for over 3 hours, we covered some pretty challenging terrain. I have learned the hard way to keep your weight way back and to look forward about 10 feet. It does you no good to stare down at the rocks directly below you while you worry about whether you are going to crash or not. My skills have improved already and I only tipped over once today when I hit a stationary rock. When we reached the top of the trail, we could see the storm building up as the clouds raced in from the southwest of Stonewall Mountain. The powerful gusts of wind would make the tiny tip flowers dance and sway, turning the meadow into a field of shimmering gold.

Since we discovered so many new trails, we can now hunker down in the RV and watch the storm build up. The RV is rocking and rolling and the clouds are sweeping past at an alarming speed. Most everyone has left and we have the campsite to ourselves again. I prefer it that way. Callie can’t walk around on her leash if there are dogs running loose. They take one look at her and then take another look and you can just see the thoughts churning around in their heads. “What the hell is a cat doing on a leash?” I have to be on constant alert just in case a dog wants to charge us. It hasn’t happened yet, but I am ready for it if it does.

The three of us may head to Agua Caliente tomorrow morning if it is too cold outside for us to play. Callie doesn’t like it when it is windy, and cold and windy it is. That is the wonder and joy of traveling in a small enough RV. We are so mobile, that we can pick up and leave at a moments notice. Callie in the meantime is buried under the covers high up in the loft. How fun is that?!

A Walk in the Woods

We had an absolutely perfect first day here at Lake Cuyamaca and in the late afternoon, Michael and I took a walk in the woods to explore the partial island and view of Stonewall Mountain. Lake Cuyamaca is home to ancient oak trees and evergreens that border the woods and provide shelter for a pair of bald eagles, numerous turkey buzzards, and owls. I noticed two nest boxes hammered to a large pine tree but they were both empty.

On the lake, I witnessed a lot of Canadian Geese noisily honking and one pair, in particular, had 7 goslings with a mallard duck couple that seemed transfixed by them. The two geese allowed them access to the babies and it almost appeared like they were assisting with parenting the noisy children. The turkey buzzards were swooping and soaring and seemed to just be enjoying the thermals that they caught along the shoreline.

As you head toward Stonewall Mountain, you walk over the decreased water levels and shrinkage of the lake and the path takes you through grasslands that are usually submerged. Male, Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing their hearts out and arrogantly displaying the bright red shoulder pads on their jet, black wings and fisherman were catching trout that are stocked once a year.

It was a beautiful afternoon and we are planning to bike the same path today. The temperature is cooling down because a rainstorm is predicted after the weekend. We are the only campers at Lonepine Campground, but it is expected to fill up by Saturday. The showers which cost $1.00 in quarters every 3 minutes is a bit steep, but the bathrooms are brand new and the campground is still under some construction. We have an uninterrupted view of the lake on site number 38 and are very pleased with our experience as of yet. It is one of Callie’s favorite campsites of all time because of the peace and quiet and the numerous birds that keep her endlessly entertained.

The California Poppy

Michael and I left Callie sleeping in the RV and drove over to Julian to check out the wildflowers. It is springtime in the mountains and there are wildflowers everywhere. What a difference compared to the desert. The desert has its own stark beauty, but nothing compares to a field of California Poppies. It is illegal to pick them, they grow wild in meadows and alongside roadways and are also called- Cups of Gold. I can see why!

Gone with the Wind

Summer temperatures are upon us and it shall soon be time to hit the road in our RV and be gone with the wind. Biking over to Henderson Canyon, I reminisced about the super-bloom and how Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was covered with wildflowers. It amazes me to look out over the sand dunes now and see how the wind has shaped the environment and patterned the sand with ripples and waves. If you look closely, you can see the tracks of small animals going about their nightly business of searching for something to eat while not being eaten in return. The study of animal tracks has always fascinated me.

I happened to bike past a plain looking cactus that had somehow managed to create an obscenely beautiful flower and was thankful for the opportunity to photograph it before it too would be gone with the wind. The gnats and bees were frantically hovering over it because it was the only show in town. The citrus is flowering too, but this blossom was an opening act of high billing and in a league all of its own!

As I continued down Henderson Canyon Road, I happened to look up to see that a hawk was perched on a telephone wire over by Seley Ranch, the famous Organic Ruby Red Grapefruit farm. When I biked too close, it flapped it’s mighty wings and soared over the giant tamarisk hedge that is used as a windbreak for the fragile citrus. Neither trees are native to the area and require special care so that they can survive. I finished the bike ride with a stopover to take a picture of the Kneeling Camel by Ricardo Breceda. I am so appreciative that the wind is gone, but in its place is the rise of temperature. This beautiful desert will soon heat up and be in the high 90’s all of next week. The temperature in summer can exceed 123 degrees. I joke that birds flying overhead, drop from the sky fully roasted when it gets that hot! Summer is almost here, and we too, Callie and Michael and me, shall be gone with the wind.

The Other Side of the Mountain

I had no idea before I lived in the desert how much that wind is a factor for weather conditions everywhere else. It takes the low pressure of the arid desert to drag moisture-laden clouds toward it, but then in return, the mountain ranges block the rain from falling on the arid side. This low pressure-high pressure dance of aerial currents pulls storms across the land. The clouds have to be heavy enough with moisture and the wind strong enough to pull them over to the other side before precious rain can then fall in the desert. If they don’t have enough moisture left after they pass over the peaks, the desert receives only the gift of wind which carries the sand instead. We have had a lot of wind this season, and because it has been a dry winter, the sandstorms have been fierce and unrelenting.

Last night was particularly windy and the banshee howls and shrieks shook the house and rattled the windows. When I rise, I must sweep up fine grains of sand most every morning, but I haven’t been able to stay on top of it. I have resigned myself to the realization that I can’t be as good of a house cleaner as my sensibilities would like, so screw it, I must lower my standards in order to stay sane.

This morning the sun rose to a delightful and peaceful stillness, so I jumped on my Raleigh bike and headed over to Coyote Canyon to see if I could find any wildflowers left. The creosote bushes still have their pale yellow flowers, frosted, blue colored berries and the adorable white cotton balls all over them. The wild desert honeybees were covering the creosote in a frenzy of pollen-collecting and to my delight, I came across the Sacred Datura blossoms too. This trumpet type flower is a luminous white with pale lavender colored edges. It is also known as Jimson Weed and is very toxic. Native Indians have used this plant in religious ceremonies for centuries to induce a hallucinogenic trance, but if one is not extremely careful, the plant can cause an agonizing death.

I also biked over to the dragon sculpture by Ricardo Breceda that I had mentioned in the Bighorn Sheep Sculptures post so that I could take a photograph of it. Today is calm and clear and my sanity has once again been restored. We are planning on another RV trip next week and are thinking of going to The Fountain of Youth RV Park by the Salton Sea. I could use some of that magic because my skin feels really dry and my throat parched from the intense heat and lack of moisture. The Fountain of Youth sounds like a miracle to me! Callie was able to climb her olive tree again this morning and can actually hang outside for awhile today. It has been too windy almost all week for any outdoor activity.

Outsmarting the Roadrunner- Outrunning the Wind

I had the good fortune to catch a quick glimpse of a local roadrunner who’s territory is about a 1/2 mile from my house. Their territories can extend for miles as they hunt for insects, lizards, snakes and even small birds. I have seen juvenile roadrunners carrying baby birds in their beaks, so I can only imagine that a parent has fed it to them during training. What I usually see though, is a lizard or small snake dangling precariously from their long beak as they run at blinding speed across the desert.

How in the world do they avoid the cholla cactus when they run so fast? Their powerful legs look just like wheels as they churn across the sand and cactus quills are literally everywhere in their path! It is quite comical to watch because they take off in quick bursts and then stop abruptly, look back and forth and then take off again in a cloud of dust. The artist who created the cartoon series of the Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner did his homework when he designed the cell animation storyline. He was able to capture the movements of a roadrunner perfectly but at the expense of the very maligned coyote. He made a fool of the coyote!

This morning I took another bike ride through the desert before the winds picked up again. It is very difficult to live out here when the wind kicks up sand and dust that blows debris every which way. I can’t imagine how any of the animals that need to hunt in order to eat, manage to catch anything. The coyotes must have to hunker down and wait out the sandstorm, while the roadrunner and I get up extra early in order to avoid the wind. You can’t bike when it is windy out here. Callie too won’t even step outside the doorway when it is blowing. She knows better than to get sand in her ears and eyes. She is such a smart little kitty!

I stopped along the way to take a few more photographs of what cactus are still blooming before everything turns to dust. As I biked away, I inadvertently picked up cactus quills in my gloves. The quills had pierced all the way through to the padded sections of the gloves. All I did was brush past a cactus while focusing on an image. I still don’t know how coyotes and roadrunners avoid them, and I suppose for some, they must learn the hard way as I did. It has been a very windy, dry winter, and I can only hope that all of the native critters and plants that live out here in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park make it through the summer. Chances are, many won’t survive.

Past photographs of Callie in her bike basket!