Monday, April 2, 2012

Hike 12 – Just Another Day in the Desert

Bill Kenyon Overlook, Cactus Loop, Yaqui Well, Narrows Earth Trail
About 5.5 miles altogether, what with all the photo-meandering

South of the town of Borrego Springs where Highways S3 and 78 meet is a nice little campground within the Anza Borrego Desert State Park called Tamarisk Grove. Turns out it is the only shaded campground within the park. Turns out it is closed, with this wondrous sign at the entrance: CAMPGROUND CLOSED – NEAREST RESTROOM BORREGO SPRINGS. Hopefully you can hold it for another half an hour.

But no worries - the Cactus Loop trail that begins just opposite the campground entrance was completely deserted, and offers plenty of Barrel Cactus, Teddy Bear Choya, Ocotillo, and Yucca to crouch behind. This is a great little 1.6-mile loop, up and down an eroded alluvial fan. A very fine desert experience, albeit never out of the sound of the traffic on the 78. On a Sunday afternoon that road was busy with “Toy Haulers” roaring back from their sandy weekend at the off-road vehicle areas down at the Salton Sea. Hilda and I had driven past their dusty desert encampments the night before, where flags snapped in the wind over compounds of RVs and dune buggies. We half expected Mel Gibson, AKA Mad Max, to ambush us, leaving our old F150 beside the road with an empty gas tank and no rubber.

Earlier I had hiked the 1.5 mile Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail. The variety of cactus was impressive, and not only were the Ocotillo in bloom, but also many of the Yucca were sending up their tall flowering stalks. Really, it was like walking through a desert botanical garden. Here the early morning light spilling down the sides of the hills lit up the Cholla and Barrel Cactus, requiring many stops and off-trail wanders for photographs.

Cactus is a great subject for backlight, assuming you don’t have a pretty woman with beautiful hair available to pose for you. Handled right, it makes a great second choice. The spines of the cactus pick up the light and glow, like her hair would have. The trick is to keep the direct sunlight off of the lens, and avoid the resulting flare and loss of contrast. I do this by first making sure the shutter speed is high enough that I can get a sharp image holding the camera with one hand, and making sure the vibration reduction is switched on. The other hand is held up to shade the lens. I pull my eye away from the viewfinder enough to see that the lens is indeed shaded. You can also tell you have it right because when you do the flare goes away. Just make sure that your hand is not part of the image. Or if unavoidable, plan on composing the image so that upper part may be cropped away. The “right” way to do this, of course, is with a tripod, so that shutter speed is not an issue (even on a breezy day, cactus can be depended on to hold pretty still), and you can compose and shade more precisely. My tripod, of course, was safely back in the truck.

Following the Cactus Loop hike I headed down the 1.5-mile out and back trail from the Tamarisk Grove Campground to Yaqui Well. Yaqui Well is so named for an Indian who emigrated here from Mexico some time ago and married a local Indian girl. He must have been quite a fellow, as several places here bear that name. This hike was a bit of a bust. On a calmer day I would have hung around the Tamarisk trees by the spring, hoping to photograph birds, including the crowned Phainopepla, feeding on the berries of the desert mistletoe. But today the trees were bouncing around and shadows moving so much that it would have been difficult to spot a bird, let alone photograph it.

The day was wrapped up with a nice little half-mile nature trail called the Narrows Earth Trail, which is found a few miles east on 78 from Tamarisk Campground. A kind person had left the last pamphlet on the weathered box, held in place with a rock, which pointed out the evidence of faulting and presented some impressive ages for some of the rocks passed by the trail. Like 500 million year old Paleozoic sea floor sediments, originally laid down somewhere in central Mexico, and heaved up here by various tectonic forces including the old San Andreas Fault. I’m a geologist, and even so cannot begin to get my head around that length of time, let alone the concept of moving pieces of the earth’s crust that distance. Really, the Creationists have it so easy. I replaced the pamphlet and the rock in the box for their edification and confusion, got into the car and out of the wind, and enjoyed my liverwurst sandwich on the fine desert drive back to Borrego Springs.

Ocotillo and Cholla on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

Cholla and Red- and Yellow-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

Flowering Yellow-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Bill Kenyon Overlook Trail

A tribute to the trail builders on the Cactus Loop Trail

Teddy Bear Cholla on the Cactus Loop Trail

Flowering Red-Spined Barrel Cactus on the Cactus Loop Trail

Along the Cactus Loop Trail

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