Friday, March 13, 2009

Desert Flowers Reprise

I wrote last year about going to the Anza Borrego State Park to see the magic of the desert in spring bloom. We wanted to go again, and this time to take the Airstream off into the desert and stay for a few days. So we did.

The rains in December and January have greened up the whole county. Our campo (field) is lush now that the cows are in another place, and it now makes more sense that the Texas ranchers that settled this area would like the grazing. Even up in the desert there are mists of green on some hillsides, and water flowing in a few of the creeks and washes.

Still, it’s the desert: miles of flat sandy stony land with brushy shrubs, and spiky cactus, agave and ocotillo.

The ocotillo is a bizarre plant, also known as coach whip. Most of the dry times, it is a 7-8 foot high collection of straight up sticks with spines, a pretty brutal coach whip. The minute there is any rain, it gets covered with tiny round bright green leaves, and the tips have a long bunch of bright red tubular flowers that look like a red pennant. The transformation isn’t as dramatic as the juicy annual wildflowers because they appear out of nothing but sand, and run riot. But the ocotillo is a more visible example of what is dried up and dead coming to life.

We parked up a wash, ie dried up stream bed. They only get rain that would make it run every two years or so, and they did in Jan, so the marks of the rushing water are still visible. I would love to see a flash flood in the desert, rushing all brown and violent, hoping to catch something unaware. The weather is fine, so we drive on up to a wide spot. Going in here with a 29’ trailer is a little adventurous. We might get stuck in sand, as the truck, in spite of being 4 wheel drive, doesn’t have big fat tires, or we might never find a place to turn around. Nothing ventured though and we find a good wide spot. Mountains all around, and a silence that makes your ears ring, as though they are trying really hard to find something, anything to listen to.

I love this empty stillness. It is desolate, no man made thing to see or hear, no trees to speak of, and few creatures. Sitting in the morning sun beside the trailer, I see a humming bird, hear other small birds chittering now and then, and grasshoppers fly by once or twice. I just dream of nothing, my mind empty and cleaned. I have wanted to do this for so long, my trailer is designed for just this, and in spite of some new scratches in the shiny skin, it feels as though I have achieved something to be here.

We spent the first day revisiting the more accessible wild flower hot spots, which were a little passed, and the effect was diminished by a lot of green between the flowers. The green obscured the flowers some, but also made it less clear that the flowers came out of nothing, no top soil, nothing.

After lunch at an aging resort, we got in touch with some Airstream friends, Linda and Jack Laughlin, who have lived here in Borrego Springs (at least in the winter) since 1982. They spend much of the summer traveling in their exquisite small, ’56 Airstream that shines like the sun pulled by a terrific yellow 4x4 Chevy truck of the same 50’s vintage. They met us at the last rally, and when we mentioned we were coming for the flowers, they said to look them up. We did and yahoo!

We got the tour of tours of this enormous (600,000 acre) park. Down white sandy washes and along mud stone canyons and finally into the Borrego Badlands where we ended up on Font’s Point. From here you can see the distant mountains, and at our feet the wrinkled and lined eroded soft rocks winding and twisting around the washes. The mud stone is a tan color, the sediments that made it came from the ancient Colorado River when it was more of a sea most of the time.

The layers are a little different in texture, with rocks in it sometimes, but all of a color, and sharply defined by the setting sun. We sit in chairs and have cheese and crackers and wine as the sun sets.

Jack and Linda took us to places where

the sunflowers turned the sands yellow,

where hawks nested in a soft canyon,

where Indians moved stones out of circles to sleep in, where Patton trained his desert troops,

where the usually rare desert lilies were thick on the ground and fat with flowers, impossible plants in this dried up place.

We saw cactus starting to bloom,

and Linda and I ran from flower to flower, finding new ones and hooting with the fun of the hunt. What a day, what a day!

Jack and Linda

I know that this place is dreadful in the summer, daily over 100, often 110 or even 120 degrees, but I would like to feel that, to see the desert in that white heat. I would sort of like to live here for a year, to have citrus fruits in my yard, and feel the warm night wind.