While I’m trying to figure out the mechanics of publishing my thoughts on this blog you’ll probably find it a little disorganized. That’s because I’m using a new blog web support thingie and so there’s, once again, a very steep learning curve.
So I’ll stop complaining and just start writing…
We arrived in Borrego Springs ten days ago. It took three days to get here because we like to keep the trailer hauling short and during daylight hours. Since arriving in Borrego we have reconnected with friends and gotten busy doing the things we love to do.
Biking: we have been pedaling around the valley and yesterday we rode up to the Yaqui Pass summit. It was a beautiful day and it takes me about an hour to get to the top. I like that I’m by myself when I’m riding. The desert is beautiful and it’s a great meditative activity. The rest of the group is faster than I am so I lost them (or they lost me). Some how I arrived back at the trailer just a few minutes after Jonathan and it was quite a ballet that we managed to do an out and back ride without seeing each other on the return jaunt.
St Richard’s Catholic Church: We really like the catholic community here and we arrived just a few days before Christmas. There’s a new priest-Fr Fernando. We recognized many of our old friends and were happy to see them. I got the mass times wrong so we ended up with a couple or extra hours. A great opportunity to go out for Christmas Eve dinner at Carmelita’s.
Music: Linda and Steve Kramer are camped near us. Linda came equipped with a full keyboard. I brought my violin because it’s quite a bit smaller than the cello. I haven’t played the violin in about 10 years so it’s not sounding too great. But Linda is quite skilled and very patient and we’ve been enjoying working on some simple classical duets and our second attempt sounded much better than the first.
Borrego Springs Community: Last year the community was deep in discussion and planning for a new library and park. This year it was nearly completed and is absolutely amazing. The new library is spacious and inviting, with outdoor patio area and built to fit in with the desert environment. Across the street is a new playground, various game courts, dog run and the new sherif’s department office.
We tried. We really, really tried. Jonathan needed two more visits to Los Algodones to finish his dental work. It made a lot of sense to just go to Yuma and see if we could find a place that we liked. We had a recommendation for a place in the foothills east of Yuma called Carefree Village. When we got there we were impressed by the variety of amenities: two swimming pools, jacuzzis, exercise room, craft room, multiple ball courts including bocce, and a workshop for small projects. We decided to give it a try. The place was pretty deserted. They told us that two weeks ago it was completely full. Weather had turned warm and it was a bit windy. And then it got really windy, too windy to do much of anything outdoors. We shopped for groceries, cooled off in the pool.
Jonathan saw the dentist and all was well. He completed his first implant. They asked him to come back in five days to finish up work in progress on another tooth. Drat! Long enough to make our stay in Yuma a real deal; too short, we thought, to go anywhere else. We dithered for a day and while we dithered the wind increased and the nearby marine airbase must have decided that those attack helicopters needed some low-flying-in-the-wind practice. The blowing dust made the air quality unhealthy. We felt like we were trapped in a fishbowl in that parking lot of an RV park. So after a day of dithering we made a run back to Borrego Springs-just 2 hours away. We pulled into Holiday Home, which now looked like a ghost town. We were the only RV there. We picked the nicest spot and backed right in. We felt like we were home.
It was amazing how much things had changed in the three weeks that we had been gone. Trees leafed out, cactus were blooming, and all the green grass was now brown. The reptiles had awakened from their winter slumber and were slithering about. A little Desert Iguana ran right through our campsite and paused on Jonathan’s foot before realizing he wasn’t where he wanted to be.
I finished doing the taxes which made me blissfully happy. Why is that such a big deal? Well, when we left in December I never imagined that we wouldn’t be back by April 15th. I had almost none of the documents that I needed to do the taxes. When I decided to file an extension it seemed that figuring out how much to pay would be as much trouble as actually completing the job. So I sallied forth and persisted, which meant lots and lots of internet-based document recovery. I started in Yuma and continued after we got to Borrego. The wi-fi there leaves a lot to be desired–very slow and unpredictable. It was truly a test of PATIENCE. We pulled out the bikes and went for a ride on our familiar turf. In between bike rides and reconnecting with friends Amy, Al, and Charlie. The taxes came together and I did a happy dance.
We’ve never been in Borrego Springs this late in the year—quiet, uncrowded, very mellow. The weather was perfect.
Then back for the final visit to the dentist. And, guess what? Los Algodones was way less crowded too. On our final visit Jonathan finished up his dental work for the season, we walked back to the border and right up to the checkpoint. No line at all. Kind of makes you want to do all those dental visits in the off season. How much heat can you stand?
Back in Borrego we added a couple of extra days so I could meet up with my cousins. I’ve been doing genealogy research for several years. Last year I was contacted by a surprise cousin, Rosie. She’s the granddaughter of my Uncle Jack. Turns out good old Uncle Jack had three children that none of us knew about. Ya gotta love science. DNA said we’re cousins. And it was pretty easy to believe when I saw a picture of Rosie’s Aunt Kristie sitting on her Dad’s lap at about age two and I thought “Hey, that’s me!”. We looked so much alike-right down to the way we sucked our fingers. I was able to verify the story and through Rosie got in touch with Charlene, the granddaughter of my Aunt Virginia. Charlene lives in Desert Hot Springs, just a stone’s throw north of Palm Springs. It was the weekend of the Coachella Music Festival. We braved the traffic (it wasn’t bad) and Charlene opened her home to us. Rosie drove from her home in Corona, CA. We had fun getting to know each other and compared our research notes, family photos, and shared stories.
The Road Home
Once we decided it was time to head home it was a bit like horse-to-barn. We left on Monday–the day AFTER Coachella weekend. Very slow moving traffic, but we made it as far as Bakersfield. We found a mellow and friendly spot, Bakersfield Travel Park, to overnight and then continued north the next day. For quick overnights we prefer places that are quiet, friendly, economical. Amenities don’t mean much to us.
We came home to a beautiful, sunny day–pulled out the porch chairs, poured a glass of wine, and said thank you to all our friends and family and all our blessings. Now if I can just remember where all my stuff goes…..
I have several “forever” friends and they are a treasure to me. You probably know what I mean. They are the ones that you did silly things with, or cried with, or just hung out with day after day, night after night. If they are the ones from when you were a kid then your parents knew them really well and they knew your family too. From them you might have gotten a clue that not everyone’s family was just like yours. And that was okay. I’m talking about the kind of friends that you can go for years without seeing and then they can drop in without much notice and you pick up the conversation as if it was just put on “pause” yesterday. It’s the kind of friendship that this prose/poem talks about.
Jonathan has a group of special friends. They call themselves “the gang of four”. These four guys have been getting together for more years than any of us can remember. Jonathan recalls being friends with John from grade school, hanging out in San Jose, CA back in the days when roving bands of boys would show up at your house at just the right time–dinnertime! When Jonathan joined the Boy Scouts he moved up through the ranks and became patrol leader. His patrol group included his old buddy, John, and a new friend, Rick.
As the years went by John, Rick, and Jonathan remained friends and were joined by Pat. They all attended James Lick High School. After high school, Jonathan joined the Army. He spent several years, finishing his military service in Germany. He declined the juicy re-enlistment offer which would have sent him to Vietnam, and returned home to make use of the GI Bill. He was attending San Jose City College and working night shift at the hospital as an orderly. He was so young when he got out of the Army that he had to wait a few months before he could buy beer. (That’s after learning to drink stiefels of beer on the base and in local towns near Giessen.) At the age of 21, as the older guy, he was very popular with his buddies. He tells stories about them waking him up to “go buy beer!”
Marriage and family calmed them down, but not much. And the friendship remained. By the time Jonathan and I got together in 1979 the “gang” was solidly established. I clearly remember the first visit to meet them all. It was in San Jose where Rick and Karen were living at the time. That’s when I met Pat’s wife, Susie, and Rick’s wife, Karen and John’s then-wife, Nancy. Everyone had kids. As families grew and jobs changed the former San Jose buddies left for greener pastures: Jonathan to Oregon, Pat to Washington, Rick to Texas, and John to Northern California. Every once in a while someone would get the idea that they should have a “reunion”. As the kids got older and the distances longer, camping together became the thing to do. Grand Canyon, Burney Falls, Mesa Verde NP, Lake Tahoe (more than once). Lots of kids, lots of fun. And then, quicker than the nod of a buffalo….no more kids. Now the kids have kids and when we get together it’s just us, a group of old friends getting together. It’s always the same: lots of talking and drinking and eating and more talking. We are by no means all of the same opinion.
On the way back from Albuquerque we stopped in Scottsdale, AZ (clean and scenic) where Pat and Susie have a home. Rick and Karen flew in from Austin, TX and John was wandering around the southwest looking for fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, his wife, Pam, couldn’t join us…She’s still working! We spent three days just re-connecting. While the guys are the main “gang” the women have become good friends too. We discuss amongst ourselves and occasionally try to get a word in edgewise with the guys. I’m not sure why.
In my last post I wrote about the Conspire Conference in Albuquerque. I noted that the conference was attended by 2300 people and live streamed by 27,000. That’s what was in my notes and when I looked at it the next day I wondered if I’d gotten carried away with my zeros. In a recent communication the Center for Action and Contemplation gave the stats: the attendees–2300, and almost 3,000 people registered for the live stream. I did get carried away with the zeroes.
“Albuquerque is at the crossroads.” I saw this over and over again. And it helped me to understand the city, just a bit. This was our first visit. In our previous travels we have only driven through on the freeway from east to west. That’s not the best introduction to the city, or any city really. Because it’s a major crossing–I 40 runs east-west and I-25 north-south–it’s a tangle of on-ramps and off-ramps. For the unfamiliar it’s confusing and intimidating. For the locals it must be comfy because they are jetting along, in and out, and changing lanes with what seemed to us, reckless abandon.
So, for literally thousands of years this one special place has been a crossroad: from the ancestors who crossed the mountains and followed the river in order to meet and trade, to the Spainish Conquistadores, the pioneers, and folks in more recent years “gettin their kicks on Route 66”. On the west side of the city the lava rocks are littered with petroglyphs. On the east side of the city the Sandia (Watermelon) mountains glow pink in the evening. The Rio Grande flows south on it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico near Matamoros, Mexico.
Getting Acquainted and Getting Around
We parked the Arctic Fox at the Isleta Lakes RV Campground at Islet Pueblo, just a few miles south of town (see previous post). We were able to ride the commuter train from our campsite at Isleta Lake into downtown Albuquerque (ABQ). It’s what I wish all transportation systems were like. The Railrunner is the cutest little train you could imagine. It arrives at the station. You get on the train. To let you know that the doors are closing it goes “Beep, beep…beep, beep…beep, beep”, just like a road runner. No worries about ticketing. If you’ve found the app you can save money by buying on line. But if not the friendly ticket agent can sell you the ticket that you need. Our tickets for a full day pass, good for the buses too, cost $2 apiece (for Honored Citizens). If you buy them online it’s only a $1. Can’t beat that. The train rolls along smoothly and stops downtown exactly 18 minutes later at the Alvarado Transportation Center. That’s where the buses connect, as well as Amtrak and Greyhound. There’s only one stop in between: the one that connects to the airport. The train goes all the way to Santa Fe and pricing is based on how many zones you cross.
Once we started walking around in the city we got an entirely different view. We really liked ABQ.
Old Town Albuquerque
On our first foray into town we walked the mile from downtown to Old Town. We located the Convention Center where my upcoming conference would be held (five minute walk from the train). We regrouped at Humble Coffee for coffee and scone before continuing on.
Old Town hunkers around the original plaza, anchored by San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church. There’s a small museum and gift shop on the west side of the church where the initial convent was located.
I had fun talking with ABQ native, Alma. She told me about the foundress of the convent, Sister Blandina Segale, SC, a very interesting woman indeed. I was so intrigued that I bought At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, a collection of her journal writings begun in 1872 and continuing though 1892. She writes with humor, honesty, and clarity. She was born in Italy and her family immigrated to Ohio when she was a young child. She joined the Sisters of Charity, the order founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. This order is a social services tour-de-force and still very active. At the age of 22 they sent her ALONE to Trinidad, NM and she lived and served there and in Santa Fe and Albuquerque most of her life. She is credited with confronting mobs to deter lynching and is respected for having brought reconciliation out of conflict. This tiny woman changed the world around her. She’s the subject of an episode of Death Valley Days.
We made our way to the Albuquerque Museum and spent several hours there. Several days would have been more appropriate. We lucked into a special exhibit: Visions of the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum and Library. What a great exhibit. The exhibit “tells a rich story of cultures settling in Spain and bring the best and most innovative elements of their heritage to the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish colonies.” Beginning with pottery from the Bell Beaker culture, a Bronze Age, 4,000+ year old culture known for their bell shaped vessels, and continuing on through Islamic, Medieval, Golden Age Spain and Colonial and 19th century works (El Greco, Velázquez and Zubarán) in the first part. The second part was Goya through the 1920s in Spain. It was overwhelming to stand in the presence of all this beauty.
And that was just the special exhibit. We lost ourselves in the remaining galleries. My favorite is called Only in Albuquerque. I learned so much about the resources, courage, and traditions of the people of New Mexico.
I had really come to Albuquerque to attend the Conspire Conference. While Jonathan enjoyed various trailer repair projects and a full day to himself at the Natural History Museum and Planetarium, I engaged with 2300 other seekers at the Conspire Conference. People came from every state in the US and 14 foreign countries. We were joined by another 27,000 who “attended” via the live stream . This year’s theme: The Universal Christ.
Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and one of my favorite Catholic teachers and writers. In 1986 he founded the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), right here in Albuquerque. It was about that time that I first heard him speak and began reading his books. I love the clarity and simplicity with which he writes and he has inspired me over the years in my own spiritual practice. I know his work is familiar to many of you, but if not, or if you want to learn more check out the website at: cac.org. As he ages he’s carried his vision forward and is supported by a huge staff of very gifted, mostly young, people.
Conspire comes from the Latin word conspirare–to breath together. We spent 4 days doing just that. Fr Richard was joined by Rev Jacqui Lewis from The Middle Collegiate Church in NYC (middlechurch.org) and scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan. We had time for group practice, meditation, and prayer. I made new friends and had fun. I don’t really like being in crowds that big and have “attended” the live stream conferences for the past few years, but it was good to be there and to share in the process of coming together to do good in the world.
I was really impressed by the diversity of people attending: faith, color, gender, age, sexual orientation. All welcome.
I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface here. We had some cold and windy weather. We didn’t get any hiking/biking time and so I’m looking forward to spending more time in Albuquerque in the future. Perhaps you’ll join us for the seventh and final Conspire Conference next year–May 15-17, 2020?
It’s been an unusually cool and rainy three months in Borrego Springs. It was time to leave for our planned visit to Albuquerque. We gave ourselves a full week to get there, without any particular game plan or deadlines. Our friend, John Sanguinetti, started out with us.
We left on a day when the weather finally turned warm and dry. Flowers were blooming everywhere. Our friend, John Sanguinetti, started out with us. He had been camping at our site in Borrego for a few days and was heading in generally the same direction, so we decided to keep in touch.
After you’ve been parked in one spot for three months it’s a lot of work to pull up stakes. No early start, but, as I said we had no agenda. We decided to try a slightly different route than we’ve previously taken. We headed out to the south, rounding the tip of the Salton Sea before turning north toward Blythe, CA. It was our intention to boondock–dry camping. There are a number of spots where it’s legal to just pull over and spend the night (or the week), and if you’re self contained, as we are, it can save a bundle of money. I found a BLM wide spot in the road called Snaggletooth Primitive RV Camp. It came highly recommended and looked like it was perfect for our needs.
Expect the Unexpected: Mayflower County Park and the Blythe Intaglios
On our way north we pulled over for a lunch-break at the day use area of Mayflower County Park, just north of Blythe. That’s when we discovered that the water pump in our trailer was not working. Yikes, that’s kind of important for “dry camping”. Fortuitously, we had landed in a wonderful spot. This is a jewel of a park. It’s quiet, with mellow and friendly staff who gave us permission to pull in anywhere that suited us, in any direction. The weather was perfect, we were right on the Colorado River and John could share our campsite. We decided to stay and see if the water pump could be fixed. It could! Handyman Jonathan and his trusty assistant John took the pump apart and found all sorts of debris blocking the filter. They put it back together again and voila! That night there was a huge almost full moon. I was up early the next morning just in time to see the moon sinking off on the western horizon.
Sarah at the park office told us about these must-see figures–geoglyphs–that can be viewed just off Hwy 95 up a short rough dirt road–the Blythe Intaglios.They are somewhat mysterious and are dated between 250-2,000 years ago. I think that’s quite a range. There are several human-like figures and several animal shapes. Not much seems to be really known about them. They were interesting to see and we did a lot of head scratching while we were there. The figures are protected from off-road vehicle damage by fencing.
After our archaeology side trip we got on the road again and stopped to check out Snaggletooth. We had a hard time deciding if we were in the right spot. It actually looked great, if not a bit isolated. Since it was only about 20 miles from Mayflower Campground we decided it was too soon to stop and continued on with our meandering journey.
Hualapai Mountain Park
We’ve had good luck with county and regional parks and so when I found Hualapai I thought it would be a great overnight stop. You would think that I might consider that a place called Hualapai Mountain just might be up in the…mountains. It was ONLY 14 miles off I-40 and so we headed up…and up…and up. The truck engine roared as we twisted up the narrow and steep road. When we were about 2 miles from the park Jonathan said, “Is that snow!?” Our ears were popping. That was when it occurred to me that there might have been some concerns about my overnight site choice. At 6,000 feet elevation and with those snow covered peaks looming above, the desert environment that we were used to changed to steep cliffs and lots of evergreens. It was like a quick trip home.
Hualapai Mountain Park is a “sky island”–mountain sanctuaries that rise so steeply out of the desert that they serve as biological refuges for migrating species. The peeks that we were looking at are at 8,417 ft above sea level and within the park there are four distinct habitat zones. Like the Chiracahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona the variety of species of flora and fauna is distinctly different from the lower elevations. We saw a squirrel that I swear looked like it had mated with a jackrabbit. I think it’s actually a Tassel Eared Squirrel. At the ranger station we were greeted by Debbie who was so excited to tell us all about this beautiful place. We were almost the only ones there. I was interested, but the shivering was starting to sap my attention.
Hualapai’s roads (including the last 10% grade pitch), buildings, and trails were started as a New Deal project in 1936 and completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There are miles of trails for both hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding and a newer RV Park area with hookups as well as cabins and tent camping areas. Bottom line: this would be a great place during the summer, a cool refuge when you were melting in the desert heat. We wished we had a week to stay there but it was a lot of work for an overnight.
Homolovi State Park
The brochure reminded us that snow could be expected into late April and indeed snow was in the forecast. And so, the next morning we wound our way carefully back down the mountain and continued east to the fine community of Winslow, AZ. They are definitely capitalizing on the Eagles song from the 70’s as almost every block there’s a “…standing on the corner” business.
We have traveled quite a lot in Arizona. Thirty years ago we went on a 28 day “Four Corners” trip with Rhiannon and Caitlin. We wandered around that area and saw many Navajo Nation and other Anasazi important sites: Betatakin, Canyon de Chelley, Mesa Verde NP. We reprised some of that trip years later with Ellie when she was about six years old, pulling our 16 foot Casita trailer. We added Chaco Canyon on that one. I didn’t feel that we really had visited Hopi Nation locations so I was really glad that Homolovi was on our path this time.
We checked in at Homolovi State Park with the intention to just spend one night but were so intrigued by it that we stayed two nights and I would have happily stayed longer. Homolovi is the ancestral home of the Hopi. In the 14th century the Hisat’sinom (Anasazi) developed a thriving community along the Little Colorado River. When they moved on they covered up some of the more important parts of the community, leaving behind ceremonial Kivas and an extensive system of brick above-ground shelters. Very little of the pueblo has been reconstructed as the Hopi believe that where things are is where they should be. In later years Mormon settlers used the bricks in their own building projects in nearby Winslow. For the Hopi this is their homeland and is a special place to visit to renew the ties of the people with the land. It used to be called “Homolovi Runis” but the name was changed and the Hopi asked that it be given the protection of the state and become part of the state park system. There are two archeological sites and three trails open to the public within the park. Two other sites are off limits. As we hiked Jonathan got the feeling that he was “being herded” and I think we were. My take was that we were enjoying the privilege of walking on the Hopi homeland and where we were welcomed was where we should be. Here, not over there.
There’s a really fine interpretive display at the visitor center. We checked in there to pay for our site on the first day. Gwen Setalla was working at the desk and she checked us in with brisk efficiency–not unfriendly, but reserved. The next day we returned to spend more time to view the exhibits. I had noticed a newspaper article about Gwen and her brother, Dee, both potters who are very active in teaching about Hopi pottery. Her pottery was also on display and is quite beautiful. She is skilled and uses local resources to shape, color, and decorate her pottery. Her brand is Aäs-Kū-Mana— “Mustard Juice Girl”. She is proud to be from the Bear Clan and when Jonathan started to ask questions she was very knowledgeable about her Hopi ancestry. There was also a nice display about Hopi Code Talkers in World War II. I had heard of the Navajo code talkers but was unaware that the Hopi were also code talkers.
Petrified Forest National Park
When I first suggested that we have a stopover and look-see at Petrified Forest NP, Jonathan was a little reluctant. Been there, done that. But I hadn’t; so he graciously acquiesced. As we walked the trails in the park, overwhelmed by the staggering beauty, he realized that his last visit was a brief drive-through on a ten-day road trip from California to Louisiana and Minnesota with infant Jason. That was just a FEW years ago and though the timeless views have not changed, the park facilities have. Plus, we had more time to amble the trails and no crying infant to distract us.
Within spitting distance of the south entrance to the park there’s a gift shop: Crystal Forest Gifts. They allow dry camping for free. We couldn’t have asked for better accommodations. (We also discovered once again that the water pump wasn’t working. This time it was not a disaster because we had carried some extra jugs of water.)
The park has two distinctly different regions. The southern section (south of I-40) is known for the profuse deposits of petrified wood as well as its archeological sites. We spent some time in the southern region of the park as soon as we arrived, walking the Giant Logs trail and touring the excellent visitor center.
Petrified Wood is beautiful to behold. It looks as if someone with a giant chainsaw started to cut it up for firewood and then changed their mind. Why all those straight across cuts? Turns out that because of the hardness of the stone it cracks at 90 degree angles.
We drove through the park stopping at several of the trails to view petroglyphs and pueblo sites. At the Long Logs and Agate House trails our cell phones went black as soon as we started on the trail, so no pictures. As we made our way north the petroglyphs and pueblo outline seen at the site of an ancient village along the Puerco River were particularly impressive. Kudos to the park service for thoughtful management of resources. It was pretty easy driving the trailer through and we knew where we could park, and where we could not.
North of I-40 the terrain changes and the brilliant hues of the Painted Desert predominate. Words completely fail me in my attempt to describe this area. I tried taking photos and those didn’t capture it either.
We did stop at the Painted Desert Inn. This is now a museum with its dining room, cafe, bar, and kitchen restored with original paints and wooden 1950s furniture. You can also buy museum quality woven rugs and silver jewelry. All very beautiful to admire.
Red Rock Park
Just east of Gallup, NM we stopped for an overnight at Red Rock Park. No surprise that there are red rock canyons, but I was completely surprised when I looked up and saw this view.
On Sunday, just six days after we left Borrego Springs we crossed the continental divide and arrived in Albuquerque. I’m such a west-coaster that when I cross the divide I think I’m on the “east coast”. My friends and family in eastern Montana and the midwest think I’m pretty silly.
We headed to our home for the upcoming week–Isleta Lakes RV Park. It is part of the Isleta Pueblo and managed by the tribe. When we arrived on Sunday the two lakes were a very popular spot for families to enjoy fishing and relaxing together. There’s a huge Casino on the hill to the east of us, but our little park is very mellow, close to the commuter train, and pretty quiet–trains don’t bother us.
As I get ready to publish this post the pump has been replaced and it all seems to be working. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
In Early March the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA) sponsored a history weekend. There were two evening lectures—one was about the development of roads across the region and the other about the Juan Bautista de Anza expedition. Both were interesting, but I liked the daytime activities best: Saturday’s Borrego Historical Tour led by Urmi Ray and Sunday’s-Historical Hike led by Urmi Ray and Joan Malone. Both women are pretty amazing volunteers if you ask me.
Borrego Historical Tour
Stop 1–We met at the ABDNHA Library for an introductory lectures. The tour history focused on just the more recent history–the last two hundred years. The current ABDNHA building was the post office and library from 1961-86.
Stop 2–Christmas Circle and Vicinity–We began the tour with a look at Christmas Circle. That’s the giant, somewhat confusing two-lane traffic circle that surrounds a park and joins all the major roads in and out of town. It serves as a hub for all things Borrego: the winter farmer’s market, the Circle of Art and a Christmas visit from Santa. There are several theories about why it’s called “Christmas” Circle”. The one I like is this: The original street names on the maps were letter designation (probably from the brands of local ranches) and this is the spot where X, M, And S came together. Or maybe it was just the annual Santa visit. Across the street from the old post office was the bowling alley and drive-in movie theater. There was a market in what is now the Borrego Art Institute. At this point we jumped into our cars and began a caravan around the valley.
Stop 3—Old Borego–That’s NOT a typo. San Diego County maps in 1883 first designated the location of “Borego Springs”. The Homestead Act of 1862 invited folks to claim sections of unoccupied federal land. Migration began shortly thereafter fueled by the promise of “unlimited” water. That’s quite an ironic appeal given the current state of water deficit. We visited the site of the original post office (and later gas station, grocery store, and library). I’ve passed this spot numerous times and had never really known what was there. The buildings still stand and the small house is very much habitable. The current owner uses it to house family and friends when they visit the area. Since it’s now private property the owners were very generous to allow our group to tour the property. This was the townsite and in the early part of the twentieth century it served the homesteaders who gave it their best to make a living in the desert. The only road into the valley at that time was what is now Yaqui Pass Rd and mail came down from Julian only once or twice weekly.
Stop 4–Ensign Date Ranch. By the 1930s Borrego Springs was growing. Growth was interrupted by WWII but the vision of a new Palm Springs and, again, the unlimited water brought an influx of agricultural endeavors. The Ensign family grew dates as well as other crops, like alfalfa and watermelons, watered by a well that pumped 1,000 gallons per minute. They also raised livestock. The old date trees still stand and the small date stand that sold produce is now the Alano Club, a meeting center for several AA and related groups.
Stop 5–Di Giorgio Farms–This is a sad story really. In the 1930s DiGiogio began growing grapes under the brand name Verbena and because of the climate he was able to get the grapes–Thompson Seedless– to markets much earlier than other growers. It was a thriving operation according to some reports, employing lots of workers. There was housing and recreational facilities at the farm. To protect the vines from wind he planted those water-sucking Tamarisk trees that are now being removed as the aquifer sinks to the center of the earth. After several years of marginal or limited profitability DiGiorgio made the decision to cease operations when the United Farm Workers went on strike. He let the grapes go fallow and that was the end of grape growing in the Borrego Valley. The old redwood arbors still stand in the field.
Stop 6–Fortiner Glad Ranch–Remember when gladiolus were popular, especially for funerals?That’s what the Fortiner Glad Ranch provided. They also raised other crops and turkeys–hard to imagine. The ranch has just been sold and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new owners have in mind for it. To be continued…..
Stop 7–Hoberg’s Desert Resort–We stopped at the former Hoberg’s Desert Resort, now The Palms at Indian Head, for a really delicious lunch. In the 1950s Hoberg’s was THE hot spot (literally) for Hollywood celebrities who wanted to get away from the crowds and enjoy the sunshine without the paparazzi. The lobby is full of pictures of former guests–Marilyn Monroe, James, Dean, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster among others.They put in an Olympic-size swimming pool and an airstrip. It must have been quite the place. In 1958 a fire destroyed the main building. It was re-opened and struggled along before it closed down in the mid 60s. It was briefly a “reform school” before it was purchased and re-opened in 1994.There’s a row of bungalows on the property that could not be brought up to code and so they were stripped of plumbing and other fixtures but the buildings still stand and the mid-century modern tiles remind me of the house I grew up in. The current owners have done a fine job of turning the main resort building back into the lovely place that it is. Visionary–I have to hand it to them.
Borrego History Hike
We met again on Sunday morning and drove out toward the horse camp at the mouth of Coyote Canyon. We parked at a historical monument that marks the path of the DeAnza expedition as it passed through the valley on its way from Mexico to San Francisco. Pause here for a short digression: This expedition set forth from Mexico in the mid-1700s in the name of the King of Spain. It was a remarkable group with women and children accompanying several hundred soldiers and migrants along with their livestock, braving hot deserts, freezing cold mountain passes, and whatever came their way. They continued on and made it to San Francisco Bay where they established the Presidio.
We ambled out into the desert bajada and as we walked the cholla balls kept jumping onto our shoes and clothing. These cacti are called “jumping cholla” for this quality. They reproduce asexually and so they make new plants by dropping these little prickly balls which blow around everywhere. It’s the reason that it’s wise to carry a pair of tweezers and a comb when hiking in the desert.
I was surprised to learn that this area was farmed for many years. There’s an old rotting car–vintage mid 30s. There’s a garbage dump full of old tin cans. The ranch houses were really quite nice, but now are off limits for your safety. They had a reservoir and you can see the marks left by growing rows and rows of alfalfa. One of the more colorful ranchers, “Doc” Beaty left his house and root cellar and they still remain.
I’ve heard it called “Superbloom” and “Flowergeddon”. Either way it means lots of beautiful flowers and hordes of people looking at flowers. We were in Borrego Springs two years ago for the last superbloom. That was an amazing experience. Flower-lookers poured in from all over the country. Grocery stores and restaurants ran out of food. No lodgings were available, not enough toilet facilities. Cars blocked the highways in and out of the valley. People just pulled over and parked—in the bike lanes. Biking became hazardous and staying home was the best idea. We couldn’t get out of our driveway anyway.
I’m happy to report that thanks to the concerted efforts of the good folks of Borrego Springs this year’s superbloom was not so crazy. Outhouses bloomed all over town. Restaurants and groceries were busy but did not run out of food. Extra San Diego County Sheriff were detailed to control traffic in and out of the valley. Our friends, Tom and Steph, like many others, spent hours volunteering at the Anza Borrego Foundation office to help direct people to the best spots to view wildflowers. Yes, it was busy and congested. Yes, there were goofy and distracted drivers, but in comparison it was way better. It seemed there were less people than last time–which may be thanks to a California poppy superbloom near Lake Elsinore that funneled some of the flower-lookers away from Borrego.
One Last Hike
Palm Canyon was finally open! It had been closed since the flooding of mid-february. It’s one of the premier hikes and when it’s full of flowers it is just pure delight. So on a sunny day in March we hiked up the canyon with Sheri, Martina, and Ed. There was water flowing down the wash deep enough to make crossing it a little tricky and it wasn’t possible to get to the oasis without actually getting your feet really wet. For me, it was just nice to be walking along with friends looking at all those flowers.
What could be more fun than getting together with friends to ride bikes? Sun in January, tandems, and lots of good food–that’s what! We really lucked out and had fantastic weather, minimal traffic, and no mishaps.
Morteros, Mud Flats, and Pictographs
Visits from friends
It’s always fun when friends come to visit. Julia came for three days, a whirlwind visit, to see as much as she could see. We borrowed Tom and Stephanie’s fat tire bikes–“fatties” and rode around in the desert with Martina to look at sculptures.
Julia and I hiked up to the Marshall and Tonya South Homesite. I hadn’t been up Ghost Mountain for several years and it was new for Julia so we went with Dan Leidecker, volunteer hike leader extraordinaire on a very cold day. No picture–too cold to take out a camera.
Once again it’s cold and windy in Borrego Springs. One day last week we watched as bucketing rain filled up all the little washes. Puddles formed in the desert. The low spots on the roads, vados, created small rivers to drive (and bike) through. Our phones screamed a flash flood alert. Time to hunker down and work on the blog. This one is about my recent trip to Mexico. Jonathan skips this one because he can’t stand the idea of being off the bike for a week.
Four years ago I went to Mar de Jade for the first time. Caitlin and I went together and shared a room at the invitation of our friend and yoga teacher, Sheryl Grunde. We had so much fun that we decided to go back the following year. Now it’s a wintertime tradition. It didn’t take much effort to convince Sheri to join us the following year so we could all room together. In the years since then a growing number of friends have made the trek to beautiful Chacala Bay. This year my Borrego-buddy, Martha, joined us as did Caitlin, my Rogue Valley-buddy Sheri, and friends, Laura and Stacey. I was really thrilled that our long time friends from Mt Shasta, John Sanguinetti and Pam Newman, decided to jump on in.
Now, when I arrive at Mar de Jade I get the deeply satisfying feeling of coming home. And indeed, the staff recognize me, welcome me with warm smiles, and “Bienvenido a tu casa”. Welcome home.
Traveling to Chacala
Mar de Jade (Jade Sea) is a wellness resort and yoga retreat center located north of Puerto Vallarta (PVR) near the small village of Chacala, Nayarit on Chacala Bay. Now that I’m in Borrego Springs for the winter I take a weeklong break from cycling and fly from San Diego to Puerto Vallarta. After the two hour flight and clearing customs we walk out into the hustle-bustle of the airport arrivals area. Anyone who’s traveled knows the scene. Taxi drivers vie for our attention. But we just look for the guy with the sign that says “Mar de Jade” and the pre-arranged van that will take us the hour and a half drive north to Mar de Jade. We wait a bit until the other folks scheduled for our taxi arrive on all their different flights from all over the country. The more passengers in the van, the cheaper the ride. The airport is on the north side of PVR, not the prettiest side of town; it’s one big-box store after another. You could be anywhere in the world, except that everyone’s speaking Spanish and it’s warm. As we drive north, crossing the line from the state of Jalisco to the state of Nayarit, the stores are replaced by condo developments, and finally the highway gives way to a two-lane road that winds through jungle and farmland, past small villages and the turnoffs for the popular beach towns of Sayulita and San Pancho (San Francisco). Beside the road we see fields of pineapple, and fruit-bearing trees: guayaba, mango, banana, and papaya. Finally we turn down the road that leads to the small town of Chacala. And just before we get to the town, a dirt road leads to Mar de Jade. It’s right on the ocean and if it’s dark when we arrive (as it often is) the sound of the ocean is the overwhelming presence.
A Bit of History
Mar de Jade is the lifetime work of Dr. Laura del Valle and her family. One evening a week she presents a slide show and talks about the development of Mar de Jade over the years, her vision, and the work that continues in the community. I’ve learned about the history in those talks and also at the website mardejade.com.
Laura graduated from medical school and began working in Mexico City but she knew from the beginning that she wanted to practice in a rural, underserved area. In 1982 she headed out in an old school bus with her siblings, and settled in Chacala. She established a clinic in the nearby farming community, Las Varas. Over the years she has provided medical care to the folks living in the area. She says the villagers were a little suspicious that their new doctor practiced acupuncture along with standard medical care. She began inviting medical students from the US to help. To accommodate her visitors, small adobe cabins were built, literally carved out of the jungle. In 1990 she invited her Zen Buddhist teacher, Norman Fischer, to lead a retreat, and shortly thereafter a group of Sufis asked if they could come to the jungle for a retreat. They’ve been returning every year since then. Slowly, and with great intention, the resort became a reality; a place to refresh, restore, eat local, practice yoga, meditate, and generally relax in a healthy environment. Now, the community projects that the resort supports are a reflection of the good heart of Dr. Laura.
The Yoga of Daily Living—January 12-19, 2019
Mar de Jade is a beautiful place for a yoga retreat. For the first two years, my friend and yoga teacher, Sheryl Grunde, joined her friend and yoga teacher, Iris, to offer the retreat at Mar de Jade. Sheryl continues to co-lead with Gavin Kleiman, an Ashland Physical Therapist. Sheryl is one of those great yoga teachers who can help everyone have an experience that is safe and just right for their body. Not too hard, but also not too easy. It can be challenging to intensify your yoga practice, but it is also very rewarding.
Sheryl’s teaching is clear and detailed. To prepare for the retreat she asked us to bring some supplies: a strap, and some tennis balls which we used for self-massage. Mar de Jade provided us with mats, blocks, bolsters and cushions, and a beautiful space for our regular practice: El Templo. Sheryl also likes using sandbags as a prop. I thought it was quite ingenious that she figured out how we could all have sandbags without having to haul a bunch of heavy bags: She brought the bags, and we filled them on the first day with sand from the beach. Voila! We had sandbags.
Our group schedule included yoga practice sessions twice daily: morning and evening, each one lasting two hours. The morning practice included a period of meditation. Each afternoon Gavin offered a presentation focusing on a different body area, with lots of valuable information about how to practice safely and how to develop strength and agility.
She and Gavin made a great team and their aim was to help us develop a daily practice that suited the needs of our own bodies. It’s not “one size fits all”: correct postures and finding just the right practice for you was stressed. She recommended that we read the book Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, by Donna Farhi. I found this very helpful. Though yoga has been part of my life for the past 45 years, I’d never actually read a book about yoga, and I think it was a key factor in helping me to develop my own daily, consistent yoga practice. And before you tell me “oh I can’t do yoga because I’m too (stiff, old, inexperienced–fill in the blanks) let me tell you about our group. The age and ability range was quite diverse. There were young, very agile practitioners, there were students who were brand-new or nearly-new to yoga, people who had been practicing for years, and people who hadn’t practiced for many years. Ages ranged was from twenties to eighties. Of the twenty seven people in our group, seven were men. It was inspiring, not only to notice the changes in my own body, but also, watching other students blossoming in their practice during our week together. We all got stronger and straighter as the week went by.
Lots of Ways to Spend Your Day
In the hours between yoga sessions we were free to do just what we wanted: relax at the beach or pool, soak in one of the two hot tubs, use the sauna, swim in the ocean, walk the beach to Chacala village, or get busy and go on various excursions. A relaxing massage at the spa? Sure! Over the years, I’ve been to the market town of La Peñita, and spent an early morning out in a boat in Chacala Bay, whale watching. I’ve toured the school and the organic farm. Others have been on hikes, one friend spent much of her time birdwatching with a local expert. Personally, I like just relaxing on the beach, reading, breathing in, breathing out. The roar of the ocean is a constant accompaniment: breathe out (roar), breathe in (silence), breathe out (roar), breathe in (silence). It never stops.
Mar de Jade: The Resort
The rooms at Mar de Jade are simple and comfortable. Almost everything there is built locally. This year I decided to room with my friend, Martha. We had an ocean-view room.
Mar de Jade offers meditation and yoga classes which are open to anyone. There’s also a gym for guests. I decided to go to the early AM meditation each morning. This was a sweet surprise and was led by Dr. Laura del Valle. She practices a Japanese style Zen meditation. I really enjoyed adding this to my daily routine. Staff members and other guests, some from the village, were there.
Laura told us that it’s constant work to keep the jungle from overtaking everything and indeed one night we were awakened by a loud crash. In the morning we discovered that a tree had fallen across the stairway access to our room. No problem—by mid morning it was all cleaned up. A team of groundskeepers keep the place neatly trimmed and beautiful.
The staff have become very dear to me over the years. I really should have taken more pictures of them. Our housekeeper, Edith, whom I have known for four years now, never speaks English to me, and she really gets a kick out it when I tell her she’s mi maestra de Español—Spanish teacher. She has worked at Mar de Jade for 17 years. She’s very proud of her daughter who is now attending college, studying for a degree in radiology, with the money she saved working in the kitchen while she was in high school.
With all the fresh local food that’s available and the emphasis on health, imagine what mealtime at Mar de Jade looks, and tastes, like. Three times a day a bell rings and we leap up, like Pavlov’s dogs, trying not to appear to be running to the dining room. The dining area is outdoors. The food is served buffet style with great attention to detail. Everything is carefully labeled in English and Spanish. The menu includes Mexican and International cuisine. From the farm we get organic fruits, vegetable, chicken, and eggs. Local fish is also served.
The cold table is what usually gets me. It goes like this: “I’m completely comfortable and satisfied after that lovely breakfast of eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, chia in coconut milk, refried beans, fresh homemade tortillas, homemade bread with local jam. I’ll just take my plate back to the dishpans and….uh,oh! Look at that fruit!—pineapples, guava, mango, papaya, bananas, fresh homemade yogurt…must fill bowl. Num, num, num.” And so it goes at every meal. In the evening that cold table becomes a diverse, fresh and colorful salad bar.
If you need some coffee or tea first thing in the morning, or you somehow get hungry between meals, there’s a snack bar with tea, coffee, bread, fresh homemade jams and peanut butter.
The weird thing is that I never feel uncomfortably full (at least for more than a minute or two), never gain any weight, and no, ahem, digestive “issues” when I’m there. Each day a different liquado is offered: fruit waters, basically. I like them all.
And Speaking of Beverages….
Did I mention that there’s a bar? Once a week–Cuban night. A local band plays, the tables are pushed back, and it’s really fun to have a drink and dance.
As I write this a “state of emergency” has been declared at the Mexican border. The problem of drugs coming into the US and illegal immigration is touted as a reason to build a wall. The citizens of Chacala love where they live. For the most part they don’t want to move to the US. They see the US as a very dangerous country. They don’t understand all the discussion about a “wall”. When a family member moves north to try to make a living that is seen as a last-resort alternative and is a cause for much sadness in families. For the most part folks in Mexico want the same thing that we do: they want to make a living, they want their children to be safe.
Mar de Jade supports the local community economically in a very big way. The prosperity of the resort, thanks to its guests, supports employment and education in the surrounding area. It’s not an accident. It is a part of the mission of the resort.
Educational opportunity is limited and growing in rural Mexico. Mar de Jade established a private school in Chacala, called El Jardín. It’s a Montessori/Waldorf-inspired educational model. And as Angelica, Laura’s daughter, explained on our tour, “We take the original model and tropicalize it”. The school is open to everyone in the village and tuition is about $150/mo with most students receiving a subsidy, thanks to the generosity of Mar de Jade’s guests.
The food served at Mar de Jade is locally sourced and much of it is grown on their own organic farm, El Rancho. It’s about 8 miles from the resort and a beautiful place to visit. Sustainability is key. This is where they grow their own peanuts to grind into peanut butter. Everything is organic. This is where the ingredients for that great salad come from.
The farm employs an agronomist to manage the farm. He is from Chiapas, attended the university, and knows how to manage a farm.
The farm now includes a new industrial kitchen for canning the jams, peanut butter, and other produce grown on the farm.
There’s also a new workshop and trade school, where most of the furniture in the resort is built.
Wildlife: The Birds and Reptiles
In the past I haven’t paid too much attention to the local birds. But this year, with our room being basically in the forest canopy, I became very aware of what I’ve been missing. I saw trogons, parrots and magpies. Hummingbirds of course are zooming here and there. The air is filled with song. They aren’t the same as at home. A flash of bright orange and teal alerted me to a Citreoline Trogon. So beautiful!
There are Iguanas that come out in the afternoon, sunning themselves on a cement wall. They pulse up and down as if doing a perfect cobra pose.
Wait! We don’t want to go home!
Every evening during our yoga practice the sun sets over the bay. We pause to watch and on the last day we went out to the beach and returned the sand from our sandbags and said good-bye.