Friday, April 8, 2016

Beatty Clan Spring Desert Road Trip, Part Three: Anza Borrego Desert

It felt like coming home. We drove into the little town of Borrego Springs over a long, bleached, dusty, roller coaster road. Everything about it felt right to us: the big green center square, the hand painted signs, the rusty metal, the taquerias, the ice cream parlors, the cacti and the stucco benches and the rocky canyons awash with delicate blooms. The knowledge that all through those rocky hills, bighorn sheep make their way, like a blessing to the land and the people. We are here; we know life. 

"Desert bighorns are gregarious herbivores with clear, predictable, edgy social rituals. Their loyalty to the group into which they were born, and to their natal home range, is extreme. There is even a word for this: philopatry." 
- Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone

Sounds kind of familiar.

No wonder.
We found our way to the pale and inviting openness that is Borrego Palm Canyon Campground around dusk time, after our adventures leaving Joshua Tree National Park out its southern end. We had come through weird bright green agricultural lands and then the funny little town of Mecca, entering Anza Borrego by way of the Borrego Salton Seaway, a long and undulating dusty desert road where four wheelers congregate. It feels like you're in a foreign land; always with a view of our prize in sight:the sprawling, sunbleached, wildflower strewn, mountain-guarded Anza Borrego State Park.

As soon as we arrived at our group campsite, a huge space with room for twice our tents or more, dotted with fragrant indigo bush and creosote, we truly knew we were home. We basically tumbled out of our vehicles in wild leaps, whooping and hollering and heading straight for the rustic ramada in the center, jumped up on the tables, swinging up our babies into the air, and had a dance party of joy!

 It's always so fun to pick our sites and lay out our little village.

All, of course, while the little ones play. Play, play and play and play. Dirty nails and torn up knees and ratty hair and buried toys, some of whom will probably never be seen again, and that's fine with us. Desert trinkets, always washed by time and sun.

Night comes with sparkles out there. Addie and Art made their famous browned butter mizithra pasta (a la Old Spaghetti Factory, if you're familiar) and everyone chowed down, heaping noodles and asparagus on our plastic plates like the world was coming to an end. And then the little ones all wore tutus and we played the blues and we played Justin Bieber and we danced and danced some more. And later, after all the babies went to bed, we stayed up too late and Matt made us the most delicious, perfect gin sours. We talked and laughed and shared stories until we got a mean talking-to (yes! again!) this time by a surly fellow camper who certainly didn't appreciate our enthusiasm and added gruffly as she turned on her heel, "And for godssake, turn the lights off!" I guess not everyone admires our twinkly white lights, despite the fact that we thought it made our campsite the cutest ever. (It was pretty much a full moon so our tiny lights were doing nothing to hide the stars, as seen by darin's many long-exposures taken from our site).

The naysayers will never dampen our spirits. We wake up with the whole beautiful, embracing desert before us opening her blossoming arms. 

"I want to rise up and bite the desert to bits. I want to understand what these wild creatures, this canyon and this river, this spring day in the high-crowned desert, flooded with peach-colored light, are trying to express, for surely it is in some way akin to what we long to say in our own singing.
- Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone

I think I will never forget the feeling of these mornings, these particular mornings in the desert, when our babies were two and always babbling and running and finding each other and tumbling and laughing. When we were drinking coffee quick as we could and making plans, but always a little scatter brained by the sweet smell of indigo and the fluttering shadow of life just beyond us, just bigger than us, the tarantula and the scorpion who get a wide birth, the nonchalant bighorn sheep in their familiar herd leading their idiosyncratic lives, the chuckwalla in the sun, silently laughing. 

Darin and I chose to leave the campsite early that morning and head to a clinic in Borrego Springs to have his ankles checked out. A nurse practitioner there was kind but not too alarmed and told him to just get home to his own doctor as soon as possible, so we pressed on. Everyone else met us in town near the Center Market. We got picnic snacks and found the perfect cactus garden palapa to reconvene. 

Joey had promised Toot ice cream because he "hurt her feelings" the day before when trying to stop her from walking out in front of a moving vehicle. Haha! So he really did buy each of the three littlest girls an ice cream cone and most of the rest of us followed suit. We ate them at the fountain in the center of this little plaza while the little kids splashed their hands and practically dove in and the adults tried to plan our day. It was unorganized, which is kind of our norm, but memorable and totally refreshing.

A photo posted by amy (@sunbeanmama) on

We headed up the road slowly to stop frequently and check out the Anza Borrego "sky art." These are huge metal sculptures made by artist Ricardo Brecedo, on private land called Galleta Meadows Estates. The owner has opened up the land for respectful public use, and the sculptures draw people in from all around the country, both out of curiosity and pure imaginative fascination. Needless to say, we loved the great fantastical dinosaur-monsters, especially the mama-baby pair.

It was too hot to do the three mile hike to the oasis, so we hung out in camp for a while that afternoon, waiting for everyone to come back together. It was blissful. We had chips and salsa, and I got out some paintbooks I had brought and the kids went wild. I just loved how all seven of the cousins would gravitate together, even the bigger ones, to just sit and chill and do their thing and be close together. 

Look how patient and concerned Polly and Scout are while they wait their turn for the paintbrush. If I remember correctly (and if I know my toot) it was a pretty long wait. 

On a morning run up the trail early that day, Matt and Amy had seen the whole herd of bighorn sheep gently making their way across the ravine. It was a humbling, beautiful sight, and one that we all envied. So Addie decided to brave the sun (which doesn't bother her much) and take a quick afternoon hike into the canyon to try to spot the bighorns, with Amy as her guide. And spot them they did! I love the way Addie told me the story: as soon as they first glimpsed the quiet animals there grazing, big and majestic and sweet and free in the shady canyon, Amy and Ade felt into each other's arms, sobbing with joy. I'm almost jealous, but just like everything in life; I feel my sister's experience so deeply that I almost feel like I shared it. I knew the presence of the bighorn sheep deeply during my time in Anza Borrego. If my husband hadn't been laid up and if my children were a little older, I would have joined the ladies on that hike. For now, the sheep are invisible haunting creatures of my dreams.

As soon as they got back: group photo time! I was annoyingly motivated to make it happen. And I don't regret it.

I get a burst of energy from looking at this picture, my closest people, my tribe. There is so much pure love here; I am incredibly lucky. Best of all: we will continue to make memories together and to be inspired and to encounter the world with spirit and joy and reverence for all time. Our babies are learning our ways. 

Pops and us five Beatty sibs.

A photo posted by amy (@sunbeanmama) on

Even big kids lapsit. This is why I love a group site. This precise feeling.

Some of us headed down the road a spur for a quick jaunt up into Little Surprise Canyon. We took the fork to the right up a rocky crevasse. Darin had stayed at camp, so Matt had Lucy on his back since she had a new scratch on her knee and needed to be babied a bit; I had Polly. It was fun to hike this way, both of them full of wonder and wanting to see everything up close. We saw big beetles mating, awkwardly, almost falling off their branches."Someone glued them together!" Orion shouted.


We saw Desert Star and Wild Heliotrope and Gold Poppy. I was squatting over and over to see their glad faces.

Interesting rocks of all sorts, and probably fossils too!

Teddybear Cholla.

Addie and Art said good-bye to us here, which was a pretty perfect way to do so. Loretta taking off from this dusty parking area, the sun just starting to sink behind the San Jacinto Mountains, the kids running behind to wave and wave; it was epic.

Back at camp, Joey and Em were whipping up delicious Mexican food for us all to share. Em's guacamole was gone before dinner was even served, which is not at all surprising. After a cozy dinner, we had a fairly early night, as the next morning would bring breaking down camp and leave-taking.

Last morning explorations and storytellings with Matt. 

If we hadn't have faced such such a long drive home, it would have been more leisurely. As it is we did not leave before 10:00 a.m. It was so, so hard to say good-bye to all these radiant spirits whose voices and fun ways leave echo imprints in my soul for days to come. 

Hugs all around. Even for the sweet, sweet boys, and even from Polly.

And that was that. It's so abrupt and final, the moment we drive away! The first part of our little road trip home was gorgeous, coming over those mountains and suddenly into the green pastures and wooded places I knew as a kid. But then, you can't avoid the outskirts of LA, driving through the Inland Empire on highways I've never before traversed. Traffic was awful; it was the day before Easter, everything felt clustered, close, suffocating, concrete. After we passed through Pasadena and finally through Santa Clarita, though, we entered the Grapevine and got a surprise: poppies and lupine in full blooming color. The most brilliant orange hillsides I've ever seen. The rest of the normally desolate drive up I5 proceeded to be surprisingly refreshing: cool and green and alive. Even the depressing cattle of Harris Ranch seemed a bit vivified. I sing my ode to California when a drought surrenders. I know that's hopeful, and that it will take years to undo the damage of our past years of drought, but it felt good to be driving through this green and growing place. 

But most of all, my heart missed the desert. I woke up the next morning confused: where are the birds? Where is the hot, wakening sun? It is so different to live within walls. I know I wrote this last year, but making coffee is too easy, going to the bathroom is too close. Where is my walk past crows and lizards and ocotillo? The food stays too cold in the refrigerator, the stove turns right on. Everything is sadly, quickly, utterly convenient. So much is missing.

Luckily, I know our trips will happen again and again and I will have new tales to tell. 

"Humans are creatures in search of exaltation. We crave, someone once said, the occasions when jolts from the universe fly open. This jolt, in this desert with these animals, is a belonging so overwhelming, it can put deep cracks in your heart."  - Ellen Meloy, Eating Stone

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Beatty Clan Spring Desert Trip, Part Two: Joshua Tree

(This post has 80 photos. I admit it. It's so over the top that I can't even apologize. You all know, these posts are my very long-winded diary of road trip life.)

It was a dramatic entrance into Joshua Tree! Our campground was located on the far west side of the park just south of the town of Yucca Valley, so past two other park entrances as we came in from the east; thus, Joey and Em made a long detour through the park. We all arrived after dark to Black Rock Canyon Campground, and the tiny dirt roads looping past the sites were indistinguishable from parking spots sometimes. In the night, it was difficult to discern site numbers. It took about a half hour of slow, bumpy traversing before we found our sites located on a slope on the western loop. 

Then, as we tumbled out of our cars, so ready for camp set-up and dinner, we discovered that the winds roaring through the canyon were about 20 miles per hour. Darin and I have a new, slightly larger tent that could not withstand these winds. Also, this entire area of campground was on a hillside, so all the tents were sloped. As soon as Darin would have ours set up and staked down, it would pull up and be blowing away, even with all our stuff inside! This terrified the girls (they were tired too) as they screamed, "No more wind!" and tried to hold onto the tent. I was afraid the poles would break. Meanwhile, I was in charge of the group dinner that night, as I really wanted to use the raw walnut taco mix that I had prepared ahead of time and was carting around on ice in the cooler, as well as fresh salsa that was not looking so fresh anymore, a cashew cream sauce, and all the fixings. 

Luckily, Addie and Art had arrived in their motorhome, so the little ones and some of the adults sought refuge inside from the wind as Art helped me prepare dinner so I wouldn't have to light up the propane stove. Our angels!

Darin and the girls ended up going to sleep before dinner even got dished up. I brought some to the tent but they were too tired/asleep by that point to eat. I ate three tacos at 11 pm by myself in the corner of the tent; we held down our tent with our body weight as the wind blew wildly all around. 
It was late before everything was situated in camp enough to know we'd make it through the night!

After a rough, wakeful night, the morning dawned peacefully with a soft peachy golden sunlight and no wind. The Joshua trees waved their funny arms and the birds made their funny, lilting calls and it was heaven. Matt made his delicious french toast for the whole group, with loaves of bread from Schaats and Great Basin Bakery.  

We met up with Addie and Art to make plans for the day and drink more coffee at our old favorite, Ma Rouge Coffeehouse. This is a place Darin and I have enjoyed greatly on past visits to Joshua Tree, so it was a shock to find out that they will be closing down at their current location due to inability to renew their lease. The closing was scheduled to happen the Saturday following our visit, so we felt very lucky to spend a couple mornings there. It's a grand place for the kids to hang out: spacious, comfortable, forgiving. Darin and I love how you can get a full french press of coffee, perfect for a couple to share, and there are delicious baked goods for snacking.

All seven of the little Beatty cousins in a row!

After we got it together and made plans, we headed into Joshua Tree National Park via the west entrance. We stopped at the visitor center to get maps and fill water bottles. Since Polly was napping in the car, Tootie came in with me and I let her pick out a special souvenir stuffed animal for herself,  a desert kangaroo rat, and one for her sister, a little desert tortoise. Polly was so pleased and proud when she woke up and saw what her sister chose for her, espcecially because Oey loved the tortoise too, but Polly was the only one who got it. These critters accompanied the girls everywhere for the duration of our trip! 

We headed out to the old Barker Dam, had quick sandwiches on tailgates, then set out for the beautiful loop hike past blooming cacti and clambering rocks. It was a perfectly glorious day to wander.

Mojave yucca.

Examining desert pincushion together. I hope theses little sisters will always be hiking buddies.

Ravens circling, calling. Children laughing. Wind blowing over the sand. Peaceful, mesmerizing sounds of life.

Mojave mound cactus.

Canterbury Bells.

Before we got to the pictographs, we discovered that Tootie had lost her new kangaroo rat toy along the trail, so Matt ran back to retrieve it. Before long, as we moved on, the rest of us realized that actually Addie was carrying it, just a bit in front of us, and meanwhile Matt made the whole loop back around and joined us from the other side near the pictographs. These are the kinds of escapades that happen when hiking with toddlers. Matt and Orion headed back up to the little dam, which actually had some water in it this time, and Oey even got his feet wet. 

Sisters, pictographs, desert toys.

Little desert clamberers: Utah, Polly and Lucy.

And little desert witches: Addie, Bella and Amy.

Next we headed down the road to Jumbo Rocks and Skull Rock. Just off the road we parked and let the kids, and grown ups, roam. Desert dwellers with sandy hair and dusty knees, scrambling over rocks, through tunnels and crevices, leaping across gaps between boulders, finding footholds and handholds and pushing up to the sky.

Darin takes dreamy photos of weird rocks.

Skidding down a big rock alleyway, Tootie fell and skinned her knee. End of the world. The howls echoed through the land. Everyone in the family came hurrying to help. Em brought a first aid kit from her car and carefully calmed her down with soothing words and balms. It was quite a scene, a full family affair.

We were set to meet up at the Joshua Tree Saloon on our way out of the park, but as we gathered in the parking lot there we promptly realized it was not kid friendly. 

So after some running around and yelp searches, we found Pie for the People across the boulevard. Huge slices of delicious cheap pizza and totally affordable big, beautiful salads. First we were dismayed to see they didn't sell beer, but then we found out it's BYOB and you just buy beer across the street at the liquor store. Win/win! Totally casual, totally ready to accommodate our huge group, although after tables filled up we felt a bit pressed for space and eventually gave up our table to a standing bunch of college kids.  We loved it there. The little girls kept looking up at the strings of colored lights and going "AHHHH!!!" 

That night was mercifully wind free so we made a campfire and settled in for a true camping hang out. Some of us (which included all three of Matt's bigger kids) stayed up pretty late talking and laughing and telling Beatty tales, so that around 11 pm we just might have gotten a stern talking-to from the camp host! And this was even with Joey constantly shushing us because Scout was asleep just a few feet away. We are not quiet people by nature, sad to say. The way he approached us at first, which we will never forget: "I'm gonna save you guys some money; you're outta here!" and threatening to kick us out, surprised us so much at first we thought he was joking. He surely was not, and we scrambled to assure him we are good people who just got carried away. But in our secret hearts, maybe just the tiniest bit proud that we are still capable of stirring things up like a bunch of rowdy high schoolers. Just having a little too much fun!

The winds kicked up in high gear early in the morning and persisted. With them they brought a chill in the air, so none of us felt like getting out of our tents. Matt made the rounds and we agreed to just head down to Ma Rouge again for coffee and breakfast. Strawberry waffles sounded fine to me! 

Bella got a new tie dye hat next door at Hoof and Horn that she was totally enamored with. Later, as we left, it blew away into the boulevard and, after asking "Where's your dad?!" and then realizing I was the adult close by, I ran after it to retrieve it for her. I guess I'm taking hero lessons from my brother Matt. ;)

These two littlest cousins have become so utterly, perfectly sweet with each other. They hold hands and hug all the time. They play together so nicely, share, and chit chat. Being around them is such a cute sight it's nearly unbearable. 

While some of us hit up the grocery store for provisions, the rest of the gang went to the raddest park in Yucca Valley, with an adjoining skate park. We were the only people there and we went wild.

After everyone had gathered back together, we headed into Joshua Tree again. We planned to hike to some old ruins after driving down the bumpy dirt road to Desert Queen Mine. As we arrived at the trailhead and met up with Joey and Em there, guess who else had arrived to join with us?! Mikie and Marisa!!! Our group was finally complete and it felt so good.

Tootie was working hard on her junior ranger program at this point. Daydreaming about what it felt like to be a lizard in the sun. Paying attention to the sounds, the sights, the smells of this wild land. 

Never to be outdone, Polly does her part as a junior ranger too.

We poked around the stark ruins of this old stone cabin.

Let's move in! We'll have cactus for breakfast and sunlight for a quilt.

Scarlet locoweed.  Toxic to humans and animals! 

There is so much life in the desert. And the life here is startling, bold, vigorous, confident. I find these attributes incredibly alluring and beautiful.

Totally spontaneously holding hands, the cutest little cousin hikers!

Addie and Art had left just ahead of the group to go meet up with friends in Joshua Tree, while the rest of us planned to possibly do another quick hike to the ruins of Pine City. All the sudden, as the rest of us reassembled in the trailhead parking lot, Art came running back up the dirt road on foot. Loretta the Motorhome had broken down just a half mile up or so, unable to start again. Joey drove him back up to try jumping it, to no avail. Eventually we were all there stopped on this tiny dirt road in the desert, the men brainstorming and trying every automotive trick they could think up to try to get the motorhome working again. Nothing helped. 

There is always an incident like this on our trips. We made the most of it.

After all, what better place to be stopped?

The kids found hollow cholla stems and yucca hiding spots. 

Evenutally Addie went with Mikie and Marisa back to town to call AAA and get a tow. It was getting dark so the rest of us made a quick decision to eat out again, since it was also shaping up to be windy again. We chose Crossroads Cafe this time, and filled the whole back corner. We loved their delicious vegetarian foods, like the seitan Philly Darin ordered and my awesome vegan Soyrizo quesadilla. The girls loved the funky decor: toy ponies, antlers, cowboy photos and a real stuffed bobcat. 

The girls were asleep by the time we got back to camp. Everyone went straight into their tents, exhausted and full and cold from the wind. 
After my earlier bedtime, I found myself awake before the sun for one of the rare times of my life. I slipped on my sweater and pulled a quilt around me too. I unzipped the tent as quietly as possible, took my camera and my journal. I boiled water and made coffee and sat in the open area between our sites, watching the moon go down to the west, and the sun rise in the east. It had been a full moon and her glowing orb still had great power as she set. I can't remember if I've ever witnessed that before, and it was pretty magical.

I also watched a family of Gambel's quails scurry through the campsite, making their funny little caring squeaks to each other as if gently scolding their teenage kids. (You can hear it here, second one down) They gave me the most perfect feeling of harmony and happiness, seeing their plump velvety spotted bodies move gracefully around as though on invisible wheels, watching their funny little topknots bob. But mostly I loved the way they all stick together, taking care of each other, finding comfort and, I'd like to think, joy, in being together and foraging early in the morning before the sun even rises. 
I took a little walk up the trail and looped around the hillside. I surprised a huge jackrabbit making his rounds, fresh morning sun glinting through his large luminescent ears. His body was so sturdy, his gait so confident: the sight of him filled me with vigor.

Back at camp a half hour later I found some stirring. I asked Mikie if I'd woken him with my coffee preparations; he answered, "It was kind of like a squirrel in camp." Could be worse, I guess!

Our last morning in Joshua Tree we were lucky to have sunshine and no wind. The girls greet each other exuberantly every morning: maybe the most addictive part of camping together. 

We took some time (like usual) figuring out what was going on and what to do next. We had all wanted to go to Pappy and Harriet's but it was closed during our visit. We debated stopping by Pioneertown anyway, but decided we'd rather do some last hiking in Joshua Tree. Addie and Art were having their alternator rebuilt and would meet up with us down south. The rest of us hit the road, heading south through the national park to come out on the southern end by the Cottonwood visitor center. 

We stopped to hike through the little wash behind White Tank campground and see Arch Rock. 

I have not yet mentioned that ever since the Death Valley portion of our trip, Darin's ankles had become badly swollen and it was not going away. They were tender and aching due to the swelling, red in color, and had developed red bumps under the skin. We thought at first it had to do with the elevation and perhaps dehydration, so he focused on plenty of water and put them up whenever he could. But unfortunately, this plagued him for the whole rest of our trip and made hiking nearly impossible. It was a devastating turn of events for him, since we were road tripping through some of his favorite places on earth. Since we've been back he's had numerous tests done and the doctor seems a bit baffled. They have ruled out gout, infection, and blood clotting in his legs. His ankles are still swollen and painful and the only thing he can do is take pain medication every day and wear compression stockings. It has been hard on him and all of us are troubled. If anyone reading this has suggestions or ideas, please let me know!

We all crawled through this tunnel near the arch...just a tad claustrophobic for me!

I can't believe it, but I did not get a photo of the arch! Here is one I stole from Matt (@mooncowboy on instagram):

Beautiful blooming beavertail brightening the trail.

Mikie had a *very special* rock he wanted to show us: here he invokes the masculine to balance the feminine. ;)

We stopped to wander through the cholla garden. How lucky and impressed I felt to see their glorious unique lime-green blossoms!

Hitching a ride on Papa.

We had to stop just down the road again, to photograph the tall and otherworldly ocotillos in bright coral-colored bloom. Marisa, who grew up in Arizona, laughed and said she had one of those growing in her front yard as a kid, amused by how mystical they seemed to us.

Cute Amy, always dazzled by the natural world. 

Little did we know that when we made it to our beloved group site at Anza Borrego (next up) we'd be surrounded by these beauties! And so much more....