14 March, 2016

Bye Bye Baja, Hello Hawks

Location: Borrego Springs, California

 Our plans are usually a bit on the fluid side (you should probably be used to that by now). For example we had planned three stops in as many days – some cave paintings near Catavina (where we saw our first flowering cactus), an old onyx mine, and the ruins of an abandoned mission. 

Unfortunately, due to poor road conditions two of the three were washouts (get it? Hahahaha)

But then a short stop in Bahia de Los Angeles ended up being 5 days because it was so beautiful there and we found a great camping spot right on the beach with a palapa, complete with wonderful hosts and neighbors.

Julie learned how to cook cactus while in Mexico
 One last excellent Mexican breakfast just south of Tecate, and, after an hour and a quarter of crawling in the line to the border station, we were passed through easily and were back home in the USA. A nice end to a wonderful visit.  Adios y gracias, Baja California!

We'd heard that the wildflowers in California's Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park were awesome this year, and, since we were already nearby, decided to spend 3 or 4 days hiking around and playing tourist.

We got to visit a slot canyon, saw many beautiful cactus and wildflower blooms, and a most unexpected and pleasant surprise, hung out with some avid birders to watch some of the Swainson's Hawk migration. These hawks migrate from as far south as Argentina to as far north as Alaska and back again every year. It turns out that Borrego Springs is one of their favorite stops along the way – the valley has the largest spring concentration of migrating Swainson's hawks in North America. 
One very important food for the hawks is the springtime abundance of sphinx moth caterpillars. Yum!

This was taken on a trail that wound up a canyon and ended at a Palm oasis.  If you look closely you can see the water, we haven't seen much of that in the last few months

We attended two evening hawk migration viewing sessions and one pretty much non-event morning count (only some of the birds migrated that day, and those few waited until 1:30 in the afternoon - we'd lost interest and left hours earlier.)

Not being birders, and not really planning to become birders, we came more to watch the watchers than the birds. Like any group of people with a keen interest in something, birders can get a bit “geeky” when talking among themselves. There were times we had absolutely no idea what they were talking about – sort of like our first ham radio club meeting back before we took off on Rachel.

But, not only did we find them gentle and entertaining, we also inadvertently learned a great deal during these sessions. For example, did you know that during a migration hawks can “stream”, “kettle”, “tornado”, and form a “migratory bow”? Or that there are three primary genetic types in the Swainson's Hawk population – light, medium, and dark “morphs”?

Many hawks didn't leave that day, so there were something like 400 or 500 “locals” who had spent the day there, and more new arrivals coming in. Hopes were raised for a good count in the morning. Only 2 mornings earlier they'd counted 1400 birds as they left to migrate further north!

 We ended up really enjoying ourselves. The “hawkaholics” were very welcoming and sooo enthusiastic! Here are some snippets of conversation that took place while we were there during our first evening viewing”:

Oh, my goodness!” (repeated nearly continuously through the evening from one group or another)

There must be 400 of them. Do you think there are 400? Oh, maybe it's 450. I think it's got to be at least 450. Or even 500.”

Oh! Look at them rise. Something spooked them. I hope it wasn't any of our people!”

Oh! They're kettling.”

Ooh – I think they're going to form a tornado!”

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! You could do this every day for years and not see this!”

Oh, maybe I'll go ahead and cancel my Dr.'s appointment tomorrow morning so I can help with the count. This is just too exciting!”

Oh! Is this who I think it is pulling up? ANNE! ANNE! Drop whatever you're doing and get up here right now! You've got to see this!”

I'm going to try and count them.” <starts clicking one of those silver hand held counters – clickety clicky clicky clickety clickety click click click....> “Oh, I just can't keep up!”

At this point we both say “I think you already counted that one.” Silence.

Those hawks are coming from the potato fields. The insecticides they use kill the insects and the hawks feed on them. It's awful. Did you know they spray 26 different chemicals on potatoes? If you're only going to eat one organic vegetable, let it be potatoes.“

 We really enjoyed listening to and chatting with them – quite entertaining. The second evening wasn't as exciting, but it gave them a chance to loan us several different types of binoculars so we could see the differences between them. As a result, we were able to get up close and personal with the hawks that flew right overhead (”Oh! Look! A young male light morph!! Beautiful!”). Before we left they also gave us a “binoculars 101” lesson and a coupon worth a 10% discount from an online optics store.

A lenticular cloud, in all our years of sailing we've never seen one of these before

Another pleasant surprise in Borrego Springs was the art. We were treated to a great 2 day Art Show at the town center, and discovered that the town sports 130 full sized steel welded sculptures, created by Ricardo Breceda, dotted around. They are inspired by creatures that roamed this same desert, the piece de resitance being a 350 foot long serpent.

02 March, 2016

It doesn't get much better....

Location: San Ignacio, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Baja California has turned out to be more mountainous than we expected. However, it IS about as arid as we expected – think southern California and Arizona. As spring comes on, it starts to get hot. We decide it's time to begin heading north, taking our time and enjoying the trip. As we head farther north the nights are getting cooler, but it's still hot during the days.

Loreto is one of our favourite towns down here. It is home to the oldest mission in Baja California, has wonderful architecture, inexpensive mechanics, and great food. After staying at one of our favourite campgrounds (thanks, Yolanda) doing camper jobs, exploring the town, and hanging out with friends, we move about 70 miles north to another of our other favourite campgrounds, this one on the beach.

Gorgeous old hotel on the square in Loreto, La Posada de las Flores

Since Tony's visit, we've been with various friends nearly every day. Needing some down time, we decide to spend several days camped on the beach at El Requeson on Bahia Conception, sampling the wonderful seafood (tuna, scallops, sea bass, etc.) brought around daily by various vendors. We discover the skeletal remains of a porpoise on the shore, hike across the sand bar and around the island, along the shore east and west, watch the sun and moon rise and set, and in general have a wonderful time. We even have our own grill and palm frond palapa to sit in out of the sun and wind, all for only 100 pesos ($5.50) per day. Friends loan Julie their paddle board to try out and she manages to paddle around for quite a while, not falling in once!  After a very short discussion, we decide that it really doesn't get much better than this.

The sand bar, only visible at low tide.
 View from the island.
 Paddle boarding!!
 Moonrise at El Requeson.

However, it's time to turn our attention back northward and continue our long, slow progression back to the US. You may recall that we hurried south until we got warm – now that it's warmer, it's time to check out some of the places we blew through on our way south.

We 'haul anchor' around 10am and drive up to Santa Rosalia to do some shopping. A pit stop for gasoline and we're on our way.

After negotiating the terrible roads in Santa Rosalia (one of the worst sections of Mexico 1 we've been on), we leave the coast and look forward to making the climb up into the mountains hoping it it will be cooler at a higher altitude. We manage the climb up the Cuesta del Infierno (roughly translated as “Grade to Hell”), the steepest grade on Mexico 1, with no problems – the radiator and fan clutch we installed last fall in Redding, California have really done the trick!

Once at the top, we realize that it's even hotter up here – sort of like being in the desert – oh, wait – we ARE in the desert! The sun beats down, the windows are open and the warm breeze coming in isn't doing a whole heck of a lot to cool us.

We remember San Ignacio as a cool spot on our journey south, so it becomes our next goal – shade and coolness, please!!

We make the turn off Mexico 1 and check out a couple of campgrounds on our way into town. We park by the mission in the shade and our first stop is the nearby ice cream parlor! A scoop of moose tracks for Mark and a pecan praline for Julie, por favor. We take our precious cones of coolness out to the shady town square, find a bench under the huge trees (we don't know what kind of tree because the new Trees of North America book we bought doesn't seem to cover Mexico, although we are pretty sure Mexico IS part of North America), and sit down to giddily savour our icy treasures. It's at this point that we decide, once again, it really doesn't get much better than this.

Ice cream plaza

Having made a decision on where to 'anchor', we find ourselves parked in the shade of a grove of date palms, inches above water level and about 5 feet from the shore of a fresh water lagoon, watching snowy egrets, brown pelicans, coots, some kind of nearly tame white duck with a red bandit mask and a black topknot, and loads of other birds calling and swimming and splashing and flying around. And it's cool! Julie wastes no time donning her suit and going for a swim. We sit outside in our chairs, reading, watching the wildlife, sipping a cool beverage, and think “No hay nada mejor que este.”

 Catchin' some rays.

See the little white dot way across the water?  That's us - all alone - sweet!
A coot.