Tag Archives: Desert Photography

Wind, wind, wind, wind, some pictographs, wind, wind, and wind

Wind.header

Apparently I have been living under the mistaken impression that when camping in the Anza Borrego Desert in the fall and winter, the weather is pretty cooperative.  We have had a few showers here and there, but in general, we have not been assaulted by the forces of nature on trips with Sam’s Boy Scout troop.  This era has now come to an end for me.  A few weeks ago we headed out on our annual troop trip to Dos Cabezas, a primitive camping site near the town of Ocotillo.  The lack of facilities doesn’t bother me.  I can always find a bush or friendly rock to hide behind.  What does bother me, it turns out, is hours and hours of gusting winds.

Not that the trip was no fun.  The kids had a tremendous time clambering over the boulder strewn hills surrounding our campsite.  We had a great hike to the Mortero palm tree grove, we explored the ruins of the old San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railroad Company train station, and we saw the “Horse and Rider” pictograph in Piedras Grandes (believed to be one of the first of early Spanish Explorers in the area) and another set of really striking pictographs at Indian Hills.  There were flowers in bloom in the desert (see my previous post Desert Flowers in Anza Borrego), and the clouds cleared up at night in time to enjoy a beautiful sky full of stars.

That being said…the wind really was blowing hard.  One tent came loose and was blown 30 feet in the air, and a few others lost poles and suffered tears.  Many people slept in cars.  I slept in a car with 3 children.  We had trouble keeping the stoves lit, and while we were cooking dinner someone had to stand by holding various things down, since anything left unattended became airborne.  And just the feeling of having strong winds knocking you around for 24 hours is kind of exhausting.

But we are a resilient group, and despite the challenging conditions we spent lots of time chatting and laughing, and then cleaning the grit out of our teeth.  We had four boys complete their First Class cooking requirements, and the scouts did a great job of cooking and cleaning together as a team.  And we were graced with the presence of not just one, but two Scoutmasters Emeriti.  I am glad we went, but I am hoping for balmier conditions next time we venture east!

Click on photos to enlarge

When we arrived at the site around 9:30, there was enough wind that we decided not to set up tents yet.  The boys clambered on the boulder strew hillsides and explored for a few hours.

When we arrived at the site around 9:30, there was enough wind that we decided not to set up tents yet. The boys clambered on the boulder strew hillsides and explored for a few hours.

JD and I had fun with the panorama setting on my camera.  He ran behind me while I panned so he could be in the picture twice.

JD and I had fun with the panorama setting on my camera. He ran behind me while I panned so he could be in the picture twice.

After lunch we set off of the Motero Palm oasis.  The hike up the palms is  very pretty, though I forget how steep some parts are.

After lunch we set off to the Motero palm oasis. The hike up to the palms is very pretty, though I forget how steep some parts are.

The palms are a great place to hang out.  The trees all have skirts of dried fronds, and a large fallen palm makes a terrific bridge.  Amy found a nice comfy rock chair to while away a few hours in.

The palms are a great place to hang out. The trees all have skirts of dried fronds, and a large fallen palm makes a terrific bridge. Amy found a nice comfy rock chair to while away a few hours in.

More palm oasis fun.

More palm oasis fun.

The canyon continues to rise up at the back of the palm oasis.  There is a beautiful view down to the desert floor.

The canyon continues to rise up at the back of the palm oasis. There is a beautiful view down to the desert floor.

The desert was pretty green (for a desert), and I loved the way the plants dotted the walls.  It reminded me a hanging gardens.

The desert was pretty green (for a desert), and I loved the way the plants dotted the walls. It reminded me hanging gardens.

On the hike down Emma found some moteros (grinding holes created by Native Americans), and an old cattle watering trough.  She is pretending to wash up with some rock soap.

On the hike down Emma found some morteros (grinding holes created by Native Americans), and an old cattle watering trough. She is pretending to wash up with some rock soap.

Two of our recent Eagle scouts.  We will miss them when they head off to college next year!

Two of our recent Eagle scouts. We will miss them when they head off to college next year!

Some desert plants.  The bushes on the top were like a fairy tale spooky forest, though on a much smaller scale.

Desert plants. The bushes on the top were like a fairy tale spooky forest, though on a much smaller scale.  Bonsai shrub and wildflowers.

From the palms we headed to the abandoned railroad station.  This water tower is always a great sight, though I was sad that the sky was not blue this year.  The rusty brown against a sunny sky is very striking.

We left the palms and headed to the abandoned railroad station. This water tower is always a great sight, though I was sad that the sky was not blue this year. The rusty brown against a sunny sky is very striking.

Mikey either rescuing Irvan or attempting to tie him to the railroad tracks.  Andrew is neutral, like Switzerland.

Mikey is either rescuing Irvan or attempting to tie him to the railroad tracks. Andrew is neutral, like Switzerland.

Sam and JD having a race along the tracks.  I was tempted to push them over, but opted for taking their picture.

Sam and JD having a race along the tracks. I was tempted to push them over, but opted for taking their picture instead.

Mr. S. in the "Instant Scoutmaster Machine."  Unfortunately, no one had a quarter to activate him.

Mr. S. in the “Instant Scoutmaster Machine.” Unfortunately, no one had a quarter to activate him.

Sam, Matthew, and desert graffiti.

Sam, Matthew, and desert graffiti.

Next up, a walk to see a set of petroglyphs believed to be the first depiction by native people of a man on horse back.  Here we are heading out.  Though it looks pretty level, it is actually a pretty consistent uphill slog.  In deep soft sand.  With a brisk headwind.  Did I mention the wind?

Next up, a hike to see a set of petroglyphs believed to be the first depiction by native people of a man on horseback. Though it looks pretty level, it is actually a pretty consistent uphill slog. In deep soft sand. With a brisk headwind. Did I mention there was wind?

The petroglyphs are pretty faded, though there is a sign showing what you are supposed to be seeing.  Stevie is complaining that I keep taking his picture.  Don't sit on a rock like the cutest little Buddha in the world, and then I won't Stevie!  It's as simple as that.

The petroglyphs are pretty faded, though there is a sign showing what you are supposed to be seeing. Stevie is complaining that I keep taking his picture. Don’t sit on a rock like the cutest little Buddha in the world, and then I won’t Stevie! It’s as simple as that.

The conditions were challenging, but the scenery was lovely.

The conditions were challenging, but the scenery was easy on the eyes.

At the trail head, waiting to head back to camp.  The boys are playing a game to see how long they could balance on the poles before wind gusts knocked them off.

At the trail head, waiting to head back to camp. The boys are playing a game to see how long they can balance on the poles before a wind gust knocks them off.

Morning at camp.  After I crawled out of the car, I saw lots of dark clouds.  We busted our butts to get the tents down and get breakfast started.  It never rained, but the clouds did liven up the sky!

Morning at camp. After I crawled out of the car, I saw lots of dark clouds. We busted our butts to get the tents down and get breakfast started. It never rained, but the clouds did liven up the sky!

The "Old Guard" of our troop.  These guys have been mainstays for years, and we hope they continue to come out with us.  We need Mr. H. to tell us where to turn!

The “Old Guard” of our troop. These guys have been mainstays for years, and we hope they continue to come out with us. We need Mr. H. to tell us where to turn!

The last stop on our desert trip was to see another set of petroglyphs.  These were spectacular.  They were painted on a cave in a large grouping of boulders that rose up from the desert floor.  Native tribes obviously spent a lot of time in the area, it must have been a comfy winter home.

The last stop on our desert trip was to see another set of petroglyphs. These were spectacular. They were painted on a cave in a large grouping of rocks and boulders that rose up from the desert floor. Native tribes obviously spent a lot of time in the area, it must have been a comfy winter home.

A long view out from the rock pile.  A short view of multicolored boulders.

A long view out from the rock pile. A short view of multicolored boulders.

On our way in and out we crossed the rail road tracks again.

On our way in and out we crossed the rail road tracks again.

Our scouts at the end of another great trip.

Our scouts at the end of another great trip.

Me and my Sam.

Mother, daughter (if you squint you can see her behind me in the pink), and son.

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Uno, Dos, Tres Cabezas

Three rock heads

A rock formation that resembles a head, in three different lights.  It loomed above our campsite on the crest of a ridge.  The area is called Dos Cabezas, or Two Heads, for rock formations resembling heads that perch on the hillside.

Gentle readers, it is time for another installment of…off-roading, four-wheeling, dust-covered, gear-mashing, rock-avoiding, wash board-loving vehicles, and the men who love them.  Oh yeah, and we did some desert camping with the Boy Scouts again.

Once again I managed NOT to drive when Sam’s Boy Scout troop headed out to camp in the wilds of the Anza Borrego desert.  I have a four wheel drive Outback, but the clearance is not great, which is the excuse I use for not driving.  Unlike the dads in our troop, who love driving their trucks and SUVs up and down dirt roads, careening over boulders, and brushing into ocotillo and scrub, I prefer to sit comfortably in the passenger seat of Tony’s Ford Expedition and admire the landscape.

Amazingly, we had PERFECT weather for this trip, from start (when we gathered in the Von’s parking lot at 6:00 AM (except for Mr. R. who overslept, thus catching up on his beauty sleep)) to finish, (when we cruised back to San Diego on the 8, passing giant windmills, the Golden Acorn Casino, and the many cameras at the Border Patrol checkpoint (say cheese!)).

The troop hopped on a highway heading east from San Diego, and when we reached the middle of nowhere, we turned off on to a dirt road.  The landscape was bare and beautiful, full of amazing geology and desert plant life.  In the past few years the desert has also become home to many giant windmills, which are beautiful and impressive in a way, but also quite an intrusion on the wilderness.

Windmill

We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up.  Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.

We stopped on our way out, to wait for the folks at the back to catch up. Nice view of mountains, cactus, and big vehicles.  (For a better view of any of the pics, double click for a closer look.)

After we arrived in the area where we were planning to camp, we settled on our sites, pitched the tents, ate some lunch, and then Mr. H. gathered the scouts together to head out on a few day hikes.

Going hiking

Our first destination was a Montero palm oasis, filled with at least 50 huge palm trees.  We hiked up a canyon, to the oasis surrounded by boulder-strewn hillsides.  The palms have never been trimmed, and their skirts of old leaves stretch from their crown to the ground.  The scouts all immediately scattered, to scramble up the hillsides, or investigate the nooks and crannies of the palm grove.

Off hiking

Off we go to the palm oasis.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Rock cairn marking the trail.

Big palm trees.

Big palm trees.  Can you find the scout leaders?

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike.  Smells like teen spirit...

Irvin and Andrew bring their attitude along for the hike. Smells like teen spirit…

More scouts in the palms.  J.D.'s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

More scouts in the palms. J.D.’s hair color almost exactly matches the palm skirt.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

Lots of rocks to crawl over and under.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

A big rock on the hillside above us that looked just like a foot.

Scout buddies.

Scout buddies.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

The view down to the valley, with windmills in the distance.

We spent an hour or so in the grove, and then hiked back down to our cars at the trail head.  I saw this perfect little desert bonsai tree on the way down.

Bonzai desert tree

We also saw morteres, or grinding holes, on the hike down. Kumeyaay Indians used to mash acorns in these holes when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.  Mr. R. demonstrates the technique.  Doesn’t he look well rested?

We all saw morteres, or Indian grinding holes, on the hike down.  Kumeyyay Indians used to grind acorns when they stayed in seasonal villages in the area.

We rested for a bit, refilled our water from containers in the car, and then drove a sort distance to our second hike in the Piedras Grandes (Big Rocks) area, just a mile or so away.

Older scouts look cool when the rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Older scouts look cool when they rest, younger scouts ham it up.

Dads and Mr. M's big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

The dads with Mr. M’s big red Ford, festooned with a wreath for the holidays.

At the trail head to Piedras Grandes, there was this weird ocotillo branch, that looked like an alien head.

At the trail head I saw this weird looking ocotillo branch, it looks like an alien head.

The hike was along a crushed rock trail, which was almost like hiking in beach sand.  It was a gradual but constant uphill trek, and took a bit out of all of us, as we walked along in the afternoon sun.  But there were incredible views to be had all around, from the rock formations forming walls to either side, to the fields of golden cholla cactus marching into the distance.

Desert hiking.

Desert hiking.

Rock formations

Desert plants

Pictographs

The shadows started to lengthen, and it was time to head back to camp.  Night falls fast in the desert, and we had to start thinking about dinner.

2nd hike heading back

Back at camp we took a moment to appreciate Andrew’s Clint Eastwood impression.

Clint

And while the dads cooked…

Camp pano

…I hiked up the hillside with a few boys for a look at the sunset.  It wasn’t full of spectacular color, but the muted pinks and blues were still quite pretty.  And the landscape was awesome.

Mo+desert sunset

We ate great food, hung out around the fire, and tried to watch for Geminid meteors, but with an almost full moon, it was challenging to spot them.  After 2 hikes, a huge dinner, and a few hours of chatting by the fire, I hit the hay.  And that’s when the miracle happened.  I actually got a good night’s sleep!  For the first time in forever when camping!!  Yeah for me!!!

In the morning we had some breakfast…

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

Scouts cooking with the patrol boxes; boys with grilled cuties.

…Mr. K. said a few words…

End.camp

…and we drove to our last desert adventure of the trip, a visit on the way out to an abandoned railroad station.  The building was torn down awhile ago, as it was deemed hazardous, but the foundation remains, along with an old water tower, and, of course, railroad tracks.  Before we left camp we got a picture of the “No Shooting” sign, which was full of bullet holes.  Sam thought this was very funny.

No shooting

Water tower

Water tower at the abandoned railroad station.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Sam running down the railroad tracks.

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station.  Back to civilization...

Final pic of the scouts, a group photo at the abandoned train station. Back to civilization…

It is pleasant to get home from these trips and take a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and check my email.  But I always think about the places we left behind, as I am lying in my comfy bed, wondering about the quiet nights and hot days, the rocks and plants, and the big sky.  It’s nice to think back and know it is all still out there.

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Filed under Boy Scout Troop 985 Adventures, Family, Travel