Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Wildflowers — and Sightings of Endangered Bighorn — Combine to Create Perfect Day

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Young ram threading its way through cactus forest.

©Bert Gildart: The drama was high pitched, almost as exciting as watching two rams collide during mating season. But this contest was between a huge barrel cactus and a single ram, and if you’ve ever examined the sword-like thorns on the species, you’d understand the challenge.

According to Eric Hansen (a photographer friend I’ve mentioned often), who documented the entire episode, the ram trotted over to the barrel cactus, and then showing complete indifference to the species’s enormous thorns, it bashed the plant with the curve of its horns, partially splitting it in two.

Though Eric (also with us last year  in Death Valley) later saw thorns embedded in the lips and horns of the ram, the young ram seemed indifferent. These guys are tough, or the rewards are too great to bypass. Perhaps the later, for the ram continued its battle with the plant, slashing down with one of its sharp hooves to expose the center and the succulent pulp, which is apparently delicious, for the ram immediately began to feast.

ENDANGERED BIGHORN

The drama occurred several days ago, and when Eric asked if I like to return to the setting, I jumped at the chance. The probability of seeing such a sight again, we both knew, was slim, but that was OK. Much rain has been falling and various plants are putting forth incredible displays in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, so there was that. And, then, who knows? Perhaps we’d run across more desert bighorn sheep, and that’s always special, for the subspecies (cremnobates) — the one inhabiting this portion of the desert — is endangered.


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L to R: Ram completely relaxed; ram, showing growth patterns in horns; Phacelia; barrel cactus now in bloom.


Cremnobates has horns that vary enough from the other desert bighorns to warrant designation as a separate subspecies. Current estimates are that less than 600 remain in the US, with some estimates as low as 335. Approximately 200 of the remaining sheep are located in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Others range north to Palm Desert and south into the Baja Pennisula.

A LAMB CALLED “HOPE”

Once the subspecies was common throughout this entire region, but when you have a region that values golf courses more than it does wildlife, animals such as the magnificent bighorn don’t stand a chance. Right now there are over 100 golf courses in — or immediately surrounding — the Palm Desert area alone, and that is ridiculous. Bob Hope once lived near the area and just before he died, he was told by research biologists that because of his involvement in trying to perpetuate the species, they wanted to name one of the rescued Cremnobates after him. “What shall we call it?” they asked. Without hesitation, the famous comedian said “Hope, and for all the obvious reason.”

Fortunately there are areas such as Anza Borrego that safeguard the species and shortly after starting on our hike up Palm Canyon, Eric and I saw two rams thudding down the flanks of Indian Head Mountain. As they scurried down they exhibited all the sure-footed traits characteristic of the species, quickly crossing the trail in front of us and then scampering up the opposite hill — another rocky slope.


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Profusion of brittle brush

 

Though our progress was considerably slower, we followed them, and eventually their route took us back to the exact area in which Eric had watched the battle of the ram and the barrel cactus. On this day, they ignored the other barrel cacti, but apparently found the area satisfied their other needs, meaning it was safe. We stayed with them for several hours and they tolerated us, alternating their activities between wending through cactus groves and  perching on the huge boulders that enabled them to survey all that surrounded them. Occasionally one would rise and nibble on a creosote bush, somehow avoiding the thorns that seem to occupy everything that grows out here.

FLOWERS ARE EXQUISITE

Though most of our day was spent photographing the sheep, it was impossible to bypass the many wild flowers. Species that predominated included the brittle brush, phacilia, brown-eyed evening primrose, and the desert chicory. As well, a number of cacti were blooming to include the fishhook cactus and the barrel cacti. One is small the other large, but both produce flowers that are extraordinarily colorful.

This is a wonderful season to be in the desert and we count our blessings for the good fortune to be here when the sheep sightings are still common and the flowers are so gorgeous. Our only hope is that Hope – or most likely, now, its descendants – continues to flourish.


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THIS TIME TWO YEARS AGO:

*Sands That Sing

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