Saturday, March 22, 2008

Rusty Relics & Desert Lavender

If you ever get a chance to visit the desert in the Spring, I highly recommend it. It's a place to refresh your soul and relieve the stresses of daily living. Days are warm, nights are cool, the air is clear, and there is peace and solitude all around you. Every time I visit the desert I am amazed by all that's blooming and how the desert has a way of preserving items left behind by past visitors. Rusty cars, wagons, and adobe buildings should have been long gone, but they are still clinging to life like the desert plants and animals.

On a recent trip to the Anza Borrego Desert, I was pleasantly surprised to read in a brochure about desert lavender being in bloom. Since I have studied its native locations, I knew lavender is not native to the Americas, so I was curious to see this plant. I asked a volunteer at the park visitor center to point out the desert lavender. The plant is Hyptis emoryi and belongs to the same family, laminacea, as lavender. When the lavender colored flowers are crushed between your fingers they give off a faint fragrance much like the lavender I grow. Of all the plants in bloom the desert lavender was attracting the most bees. There were also many other desert plants in bloom. It seems incongruous to me to see beautiful flowers on prickly cactus plants, but there they were in all their vibrant glory. We were also happy to see the palm trees are left skirted which provides nesting places for birds and hiding places for the other creatures of the desert.

The desert has much to offer even to those who aren't excited by flowers. My husband liked the fact there are many off road vehicle trails we could take. Later we hiked up several steep canyons in search of the endangered Big Horn Sheep native to the Anza Borrego. Sadly, we never saw a Big Horn Sheep, but, nevertheless we had a wonderful and relaxing time.

On a side trip we visited the Vallecito Stage Station, an adobe built well before 1852 when it was found abandoned by early settlers. Later the building became the rest stop for the world's longest "jackass mail" run, The Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849, from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco. The adobe has since been restored using original materials. The thick adobe walls and overhang provided us some cool shade and we imagined weary visitors from long ago relishing that shade in the summer heat which can rise to 120 F.

On another side trip we took a hike up Borrego Palm Canyon which is located at the end of the road near the RV and tent camping in the state park. Steep cliffs rise sharply on either side of the canyon and provide shade early in the afternoon. We made the moderate hike in the late afternoon to find a desert oasis palm grove near springs where the water runs cool and clear. The trail gains an elevation of about 350 feet in 1.5 miles and meanders through large and
small boulders. The way is lined with hundreds of desert flowers such as the yellow brittlebush, red chuparosa and blue indigo bush. We also saw a brightly colored, orange and black, daddy-long-legged spider crossing the path at almost every step we made. As we left the canyon at dusk, we were greeted by a full moon rising and a misty sunset. What a perfect close to a great day. We were reminded of the many wonders the desert has to offer visitors if they get off the main road and take the time to look around.