Friday, March 3, 2017
One year ago, on my birthday weekend, we stayed for the first time at the lovely Borrego Springs ranch-style home of Elena and John, a realty couple from Leucadia who have become friends. Our friend Dave came from Seattle to celebrate with us. It was a great weekend, complete with wildflowers, an incredibly close encounter with the namesake desert bighorn sheep in Borrego Palm Canyon, and light painting the metal monsters which now dot Anza Borrego desert. Here’s a flyover of their beautiful corner of Borrego Springs, a desert town surrounded by the Anza Borrego Desert State Park: https://vimeo.com/193663048.
While we were in Borrego Springs, John and Elena were at the mountain bike festival in Sedona. We had such a good time, we were thrilled when they proposed that we do it again.
This year, our friends Nancy and Gerry came with us. It must have been a meeting of the minds…on New Year’s Day, we met up at the beach at Swami’s to catch up and fly our drones.
Nancy and Gerry are also divers and have been regular travel companions over the years. We hadn’t seen them as much as usual over the past year, as they were grappling simultaneously with the illness and death of Nancy’s mother and selling their veterinary practice in Encinitas. Exchanging pictures and video clips later by email, Gerry said:
“Hope we can play again together soon. What fun, we would like to spend a night out in the desert at some lodge when the flowers are in bloom, hope you would join us.” We were already planning our March exchange with John and Elena, so I proposed they come with us. It was shaping up to be the bloom of the decade, a Super Bloom. San Diego itself was already the greenest I’d ever seen it, and the desert was positively verdant. We were probably a few days before the peak of the wildflower show, but it was spectacular already.
We left after work on Thursday, arriving after dark, but positioning us to be up at sunrise. Instead of Font’s Point, our usual sunrise destination, we decided to try an alternative viewpoint over the Badlands, further down the road. Elena and John had told us this was a favorite of theirs, and we liked it too, a little less troden, a little more solitude. On the road to Vista de Malpais (Badlands), we passed a solitary camper, Dave from St. Louis, who turned out to be a knowledgable and amiable Borrego regular. Having only Dave for company, we were a little more relaxed about flying the drone out over the badlands.
As we were chatting, the phone rang. Nancy and Gerry had arrived in Borrego Springs. It was a little after 9 am and the sweet sunrise light was already spent, so we packed up and met up at the house. While we were orienting Nancy and Gerry to the house and grounds, we saw a small creature bobbing in the pool, its little nose protruding out of the water, making us think at first it was alive. Before engaging Nancy and Gerry’s veterinary resuscitation skills, we realized the small kangaroo rat was dead.
To refuel for the afternoon, we headed to town for lunch at family-owned, Mexican staple, Carmelita’s (delicious chicken mole enchiladas). Rounding the corner of the shopping center, just outside the Anza Borrego Foundation, was a familiar silhouette… our friend, Janie, who also lives in Cardiff and was also heading to New York the following week for opening night on Broadway of “Come From Away”.
Gerry had a new toy for us to inaugurate-a fully loaded, very capable, Toyota Forerunner Pro, the perfect vehicle to explore rough desert terrain.
For our afternoon inaugural drive, we headed to the “Pumpkin Patch”. Although it took a bit of Internet research to figure out how to get there and tested our navigational skills, the size of the crowd already out there indicated its location isn’t much of a secret. Thankfully, the boisterous crowd didn’t mind us launching the drones.
The “pumpkins” are a localized aggregation of rounded, pumpkin sized rock concretions, a unique geologic formation. Apparently, they form when sand becomes adherent, effectively cemented, to a nidus, like an insect, pebble or shell, a terrestrial analogy to a pearl. The initially buried formations are revealed through soil erosion, which over time uncovers and rounds these boulders.
From there, we continued off-road further east, for an evening shoot at the Salton Sea. We found ourselves with others in a pungent mud flat. There were wonderful colors in the sky and water to capture with the drone, and an amiable crowd, more curious than annoyed about the drones.
We had dinner at Kesling’s, in Christmas Circle, sharing their scrumptious, crispy, thin-crusted pizzas. Continuing our after dinner in Borrego Spring’s tradition, we headed into the dark night, in search of…dinosaurs! We had our favorite pair of the metal monsters to ourselves initially. We were just gearing up to set up a shot with Gerry’s truck between the two behemoths, when another vehicle shot down the sandy road and assumed our intended position between the mammoths.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Up in the dark, with a striated, burnt orange and magenta sky, we raced to Vista del Malpais. We had the place to ourselves, no one to disturb with the drones. We alternated flying with shooting landscapes and macro of desert lilies, and walking along the rim overlooking the Badlands. Gerry captured some video of me walking along the rim trail, which can be vicariously experienced here:
Here’s another nice video capture by Gerry (also me at Vista de Malpais):
On the way back, we stopped along Henderson Canyon Road to admire and shoot the colorful carpets of wildflowers.
We relaxed back at the house, eating the pizza leftovers and rehydrating, until early afternoon, when we packed up Gerry’s truck and headed up de Giorgio road to explore the lower end of Coyote Canyon. It was green, lush, and beautiful, bursting with leafed out ocotillos, carpets of wildflowers, and feathery cholla. We alternated flying the drones, shooting, and wandering, with Gerry eventually relaxing on top of his new photography platform truck.
Heading back down the canyon required forwarding a wash, no obstacle for the Forerunner. We stopped at Desert Gardens, where we discovered some nice macro subjects, including ocotillo flowers at eye level, and a gorgeous magenta prickly pear flower.
Even further down canyon, we paused again, to exercise our legs on a climb up Alcoholic Pass. There is probably a colorful story behind that name, or maybe it just refers to the switchbacks up the grade.
After cleaning up a bit back at the house, we headed back out in the dark for my birthday celebration dinner at Rams Hill. On the way, we saw three small figures lit up in the dark, which proved to be three coyote cubs. Dinner was very pleasant, on the patio, with very distant fireworks on the horizon, across a vast dark expanse of desert. The fireworks seemed to correspond to the location of the convocation of off-road vehicles we had seen gathering two days before. Gerry and I selected the salmon, while Nancy and Steve had salad and flatbread combinations. Steve brought along a very ancient bottle of St-Estephe wine, which fortunately, had not gone too far over. On the way back in the dark, we again saw a coyote cub silhouetted by the car’s headlights.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
57 years old… last year on my birthday, I had an epic wildlife encounter with desert bighorn sheep in Borrego Palm Canyon.
I had no expectation of being able to replicate that encounter, but as Nancy and Gerry had never been to this signature desert hike to an oasis, we elected to sleep through the sunset, but still were out early enough to hit the trail before the crowds descended. I arose at six and wandered out into the yard to see a few minutes of intense magenta glow in the distance. We were on the trail a little after eight. Initially, it was cloudy, later giving way to sun. The hillsides were a green carpet, the most lush I have ever seen, with wildflowers everywhere. Although no bighorn sheep appeared, we did hear a funny, isolated, chirp toward the end of our hike, which proved to be a quail, concealed deep in a bush, presumably looking for love.
Nancy and Gerry set off towards Phoenix, while we met Stacey and Doug at Kesling’s for lunch. Our ride home was a disappointing coda to an otherwise fantastic weekend, with a mysterious case of cell phone disappearance for several hours. It was really odd… I was very sleepy on the ride home. Steve was scouting locations to fly the drone for photography, and made a couple of stops to check out the possibilities. At the first one, I was too sleepy to even get out of the car and asked him to bring one of the delicious Chuao birthday chocolates from Nancy and Gerry from the back of the car. He handed me the box of chocolate. I remember being so sleepy that balancing the chocolate box on my lap with the cell phone was almost too much. The next thing I knew, we made a second stop and I did get out at this point. We both decided there was nothing to shoot. As we neared Santa Ysabel, the weather became grayer and it started to rain. About this time, Steve’s youngest sister, Sarah, called to wish me a happy birthday. I was able to answer the call, using my Apple Watch, but realized in doing so that I didn’t know where my cell phone was anymore. In theory, one cannot answer an Iphone using the Apple watch, unless the phone is in close proximity. However, I searched my pockets, the glove compartment, under my seat, in my purse and could not find the phone. I knew I had not left it at the restaurant, since I had sent a text to Elena and John from the car. Could it have slipped out of the car when Steve opened the door to hand me the chocolates? Sarah’s first call dropped. At the second call, I insisted on stopping the car, searched it and could not locate the cell phone. I tried calling it using Steve’s cell phone. My watch would ring and I felt the haptics tapping my wrist, but I didn’t actually hear my phone ringing. We tried find my iPhone, which said the phone was off-line. Very strange… At this point, I was convinced the phone had somehow dropped out of the car at one of our two prior stops, and we turned around to go back and search, to no avail. I was able to call Sarah back using my Apple Watch, which said that the phone must be in the car, but try as we might, we could not locate it. Even after we returned home, emptied the car, searched all of our bags, we still couldn’t locate it. By this time, we were equipped with flashlights, feeling and peering under the seats. Finally, using find my iPhone, there could be no doubt, the location was clearly inside the car. However, try as we might, we could locate it. Not under the passenger’s seat, not under the driver’s seat, not under the mat… Yet, it clearly was in the car. Finally, with both of us literally sprawled on either side of the car, peering under the seats with flashlights, we found it…it had slipped into a potential space underneath the middle backseat.
As for Nancy and Gerry, we may have encouraged Gerry too much in exercising his new truck’s capabilities. We received this account of their forays into the desert near Phoenix with their friends:
“Almost lost the truck with me and Mike in it ( the wives bailed out), teetering on the edge of the top of a mountain 4500 feet in the air. 2 of the 4 wheels came off the ground, the front passenger and the rear driver side and the truck started heading over the cliff, on the front passenger side, the angle of the trail was so steep we could not see it, only sky. We leaned back in the seats and to the left and my rear wheel came back down so I was able to back up a bit and redirect the front end. Pretty much felt it was over, but glad it only lasted a few seconds of teetering. A heart stopper for sure…I now see why the truck has so many redundant off road features, I HAD THEM ALL ON AT THE SAME TIME FOR THIS TRAIL. 4 wheel low gear, rear differential lockers on, crawl control setting at MAX, low 1st gear, etc…. Never slipped a wheel other the loosing contact with the ground. So it all came in handy clambering over the boulders both up and back down the trail and crossing several streams full of water. The truck no longer looks new, lots of scratches on the body from the thorny vegetation we squeezed past, and I suspect the underside has a few dings from the rocks when I did not get the line over them JUST RIGHT!!”