This year’s Anza-Borrego bloom has been one of the best in twenty years, and it continues as the succulent plants take their turn in the chain of events that maintains life in the desert—and as it turns out—hardly a ‘desert’ at all. For the photographer, there are countless venues of interest in the pursuit of happiness.
On March 23, 2019, Indian Valley’s sheltering hills provided for a more sustained bloom due to higher elevation, greater water availability in the bajada, and less wind to dry out the flowers. A jack rabbit offered a pose, or seemed to. We fumbled for our cameras as he or she primped, realizing the moment was fleeting and wondering what the rabbit might expect for this session. This rabbit had actually just appeared on the narrow desert road, facing us as we approached in our vehicle. Then, turning and hippity-hopping ahead of us a few hundred feet, it paused and waited for us to stop and get out of the vehicle, remaining only a few yards away.
It was not the first time wildlife has emerged from cover to allow us closer visual access. Certain critters announce themselves quite deliberately, maintaining a safe distance and seeming to await the cameras. We conclude this is learned behavior. More often than once, we are sure, previous visitors have left offerings to reward this “experience with wildness,” reinforcing the behavior. More recently, a scrub jay perched on a steel fence post directly in front of us holding a tantalizing red acorn in its beak. It turned repeatedly to face us, seeming to offer a trade. Did we have anything yummier in our back packs? The jay gave us several minutes to dig into our trail bars, but all we had were camera shutters. The clever bird saw more advantage in nearby backyards and took took flight with its acorn currency.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch—areas of the state park around Highway 78 and to its north—the glory went to the dandelions whose innumerable seeds had a couple of years to spread to lots of places before the eventual rains came. One of those places was Mine Wash, the road to which is accessed on Highway 78 about about three miles east of the turnoff to Yaqui Pass Road at Tamarisk Grove Campground. About 1.7 miles up the wash, along a gentle climb of dirt road, you will fine a cultural site, once an itinerant village of the Kumeyaay people, possibly if not probably the Kwaaymii tribe. It lies on a fairly direct route one could have taken from ancient Lake Cahuilla (now occupied partly by the Salton Sea) to the heights of the Laguna Mountains to the west. The Kwaaymii were known to have wintered in the valleys east of the Laguna Mountains, but stopped doing so when white settlers arrived in the area.
(Ed. note: Of the Kwaaymii, none who are full-blooded are living today. The last of them was Mr. Tom Lucas, a resident of Mt. Laguna, who passed away in 1989 at the age of 87. I had the pleasure of meeting him when we both needed a ride back to Julian, after having attended a casual party, and took the back of a pickup truck; I remember his soft speaking voice and his dressy gray wool suit. During his years of local celebrity status, he had been interviewed many times as the voice and memory of the history and culture of his people—Lee).
The Kumeyaay site is a “park within a park,” exuding a feeling of quietude and seeming a place of rest. Many natural shelters exist in the immense boulder piles populating the hills that flank this site. Grinding holes appear in many of the boulders and sleeping areas are fairly obvious in places. The native peoples who rested here used the days to prepare their acorns for the summer season and sharpened their tools for preparing food and hunting. They would have been able to see the blue of the ancient Lake Cahuilla some 25 miles to the northeast, just as the waters of the Salton Sea may be seen from this place today. Their trails stretched across the bajada as they foraged for jackrabbits and edible plants, some of these trails remaining visible up to the era of the earliest European visitors. One trail made its way along San Felipe Wash approximately to the Tamarisk grove of today and westerly past the mammillaria garden and Yaqui well.
Any route taken today remains between the rough desert rock and the scattered “jumping” cholla cactus. One keeps in mind to dress prepared for explorations in this area.
To enter the manual slideshow below, click on any image. Photos by Barbara Swanson.Click on the icons in the map below to see photo popups of the feature found there.