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Anza Borrego SP Monday 3/13
Anza Borrego SP Tuesday 3/14
Anza Borrego SP Wednesday 3/15

2017 Trip Chronicles:  Page 3

Sonora Desert Road Trip...onto Anza Borrego State Park 2of3

After exiting Box Canyon in the agricultural region northwest of the Salton Sea, our two vehicles continued into the community of Mecca where we proceeded to have a difficult time locating a supermarket despite smartphone searching on the web. After wasting time we drove north into the larger city of Coachella and went into a supermarket where we two were the only English speakers and all written signs were in Spanish. After that we visited a McDonalds, catching up on Internet emails and information before leaving south on SR86 towards Salton City. D noted our watches had changed from Pacific Standard Time to Pacific Daylight Time, springing ahead one hour. Preferring balanced sun time, I strongly dislike society's choice of daylight time. We turned west on SR22, Borrego Salton Seaway. Landscapes increasingly became greener and flowery further west. I was surprised with all the brown-eyed primrose out in the dry rocky terrain roadside. At Clark Valley we ventured onto a sandy 4WD road in order for a peak out at remote sand dunes I had visited in 2005 however those dunes had no color at all indicating again precipitation was spotty.

The following topographic map link is centered on Borrego Springs in Anza Borrego State Park where a few days of this trip are featured:
topo Borrego Valley at Anza Borrego SP


The following links to the California State Parks official Anza Borrego State Park web site:
Anza Borrego State Park

With temperature about a hot 94F, in Borrego Springs Valley, we toured along Henderson Canyon Road that had many roadside visitors and looked too trampled for my interests during the trip. Then made a side trip on a dead end dirt road I'd used to disperse camp at in the past before driving down the Whitaker Horse Camp dirt road. There we walked about at a couple spots where we found modest subjects to possibly return to later. After that we went into the town of Borrego Springs that was choked with cars. Unwisely I decided to try and get into the park visitor center that we barely managed to get parking space for and bought D his park map and I caught unreliable brief information about conditions far to the south at Sweeney Pass. A purchase I later found could have been done in a couple in town spots. After a stop in the one supermarket then were off to Yaqui Meadows that was my plan A.


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Before the trip I had carefully researched the topographic map and satellite images for us to drive out on 4WD dirt roads to what I had reason to believe was a most promising area for wildflowers. With difficultly within a maze of dirt roads of which many were not on any map, managed to reach the area about a mile and one half from any paved roads, that indeed was quite green and rather fabulous. A few other vehicles were widely scattered along the dirt road maze. By time sunset arrived we had made camp, explored the local area a bit, settled in, taken bottle showers, and were looking forward to working the area in the morning.


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Eastern skies lightened over distant Salton Sea on Monday March 13 and I was soon up and outside my Forester over at a strong landscape I had already checked out. My expectation was the sun illuminated version would look better however the above version taken in warm skylight off thin high clouds with my 30mm lens worked better than the one an hour later with my 60mm. Note blooming in the foreground blue phacelia, phacelia distans, brown-eyed primrose, chuparosa, then on the rocky mountain slopes dozens of brittlebush, encelia farinosa, and ghost flower, while below in the wash chia, a huge desert lavender, hyptis emoryi, bush at frame right, creosote bush, Bigelow's monkeyflower, filaree, and closed up Parish's poppy and desert dandelion. Not only were there wildflowers in the area but many plants were on steroids, big robust plants with many blooms.


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We roamed about our local camp zone for about an hour and then set out on a cross country ramble across the washboard topography of cactus and yucca covered plateau and washes with our primary objective to find the wash with dense monkeyflowers the brilliant magenta colors of which we could spy from distance. Some of the cactus had begun to bloom including the above small fishhook cactus, mammillaria dioica. After much of a mile we descended into the deeper ravine I expected from topo work to contain the better patches and indeed it was pretty descent and we took some shots. At this point we were keeping in contact via a walkie talkie set I had brought along.

I soon moved further out to a large wash on our route and found the mother load. The large sandy wash side slopes were densely covered with Parish's poppy, eschscholzia parishii, and Bigelow monkeyflower, mimulus bigelovii. It was a bit late now in the morning but still reasonable for a few more shots. D appeared about a half hour later also beaming at the scene. Indeed our considerable rambling had been productive. We were immediately set on returning the next day early in the morning in best light. In the above image ocotillo, fouquieria splendens, branches stretch up into the sunny blue desert skies. At center the tall dried stalk of a desert agave plant from last year also extends into the sky. In the foreground, blue phacelia, phacelia distans, thrive under creosote bush while a few brittlebush show just a few early yellow blooms. Top right two barrel cactus show behind ocotillo branches next to an indigo bush while a small buckhorn cholla grows a bit left of its base.


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Both in the washes and above on the plateaus, several species of cactus were beginning to bloom. In this image above a beavertail cactus, opuntia basilaris, shows off its large bright magenta flowers. Note the beavertail pads that look smooth and thornless to the naked eye are particularly nasty plants one ought never touch because the pads have groups of knife sharp tiny hairlike spines that due to barbs go in one direction and are so difficult to extract that one usually ends up waiting for the irritating spines to disintegrate over weeks. Far more impressive are its many buds that will put on a dazzling display in just a week or two. To its right is a large buckhorn cholla, opuntia bigelovvi. In the foreground mixed in with monkeyflower are small pygmy poppy, eschscholzia minutiflora.


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I climbed up out of the wash up and across yet another rocky intervening plateau, then down into an even wider sandier wash and then explored up the wash about one third mile before concluding subjects within were rather weak compared to the one we just visited. D was just making his way to this last area when I called him on our walkie talkie set to let him know I already checked it out. With late morning light getting harsh we rambled back towards our camp, after completing a weary 3.7 mile effort. For the next several hours we lethargically in 90F+ temperatures rested atop our blue plastic tarps in the shade of our vehicles while making lunch and occasionally being productive. Just like many creatures in the environment that hide in their burrows during the heat of the day, only making appearances in the evening or early morning hours.

Late afternoon about 4pm it was still rather warm but at least the bright harsh sun was no longer beating down on us. Grabbing my camera, I explored up our camp area wash about a half mile to where mountain slopes began and our wash doglegged along its base. I worked a couple modest subjects before returning to camp. With a tall ridge to the west, our sun disappeared early allowing us to once again grab our cameras and seek out subjects to work in the sky light. Up on the rocky side of the wide wash we were parked in were many patches of ghost flower, mohavea confertiflora. In the image above it grows with rock daisies, perityle emoryi.


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In the above image within a small wash, a dense cluster of color from chuparosa, blue phacelia, and brittlebush. The detail in the labyrinth is quite remarkable, especially the intricate form of the chuparosa branches.


As the Earth night shadow rose in the dusk east, I scrambled about our ocotillo areas to put their branches up against sky color.


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Both of us were outside our Subarus before the sun rose on my seventh morning of the road trip on Tuesday March 14. The clear eastern sky did not offer any interest in dawn sky images and we declined to poke around our camp zone. Thus we agreed to get on the dirt road maze in order to find a place to park closer to the sandy wash we visited Monday. I opened up the Trimble Navigator app as we set off down our dirt road and that showed a junction we had driven down briefly a couple days earlier would bring us to the closest point. A couple RV campers were set up nearby as we locked our cars and set out across the plains. Although the area is named "Yaqui Meadows" it isn't a meadow in the normal sense but rather just a large expanse of sloping joined bajadas and bedrock cut with numbers of eroding wash arroyos. We could eyeball where to go by using terrain features of the higher mountain slopes to the west. It wasn't long before we reached the target wash and then leisurely prepared for field work over the next half hour while poppies were still not quite open. Set up my tripod for the image above that was a repeat of a subject I had worked Monday, arguably with best color in the wash I was intent on nailing well.

Next up was the image at page top looking down canyon across Borrego Valley towards distant Coyote Mountain and Santa Rosa Mountains. The large ocotillo frame right was one of the few trees we encountered with actual blooms as most still were in the less aesthetic bud stage. Desert barrel cactus, ferocactus cylindraceus, were abundant on the plateau and many like the one at center frame, were starting to bloom with their large yellow flowers

Later back home I had trouble processing this image with Photoshop Auto-Blend because of blending blurriness with parallax between the ocotillo and distant mountains that Zerene Stacker had no issues with. Auto-Blend also resulted in blurred blending of a few other distant mountain images during the trip as it often has trouble with areas of real vague and mushy detail. In some of those cases I resorted to using a layer mask in reveal all mode after alignment to paint in sharp selections from a frame I used infinite focus for. Photoshop Photomerge stitch blending also often results in duplicated terrain especially at ridge lines, an unacceptable fitting solution versus warping. Focus stack and multi row column stitch blending with images with massive detail intended to print large, are prone to digital artifacts that may make processing impossible unless one has figured out workarounds. Information that is not generally available on how to sites because most such help is at the small web image level. A stitched image may have large pixel dimensions but unless detail in all areas stands up sharply at magnification levels intended, it is no better than a downsized version in which artifacts can no longer be discerned. Just as printing any image at magnification levels that at close viewing distances show a lack of resolution either from blurred elements or digital jaggies. One will thus note while selecting my enlarged vertical slice views below each image, that all my images are tack sharp top to bottom, left to right, including close-ups.


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Plateau areas between washes often had dense areas of monkeyflowers, especially directly on the wash rims. The above image view with Yaqui Ridge in the background, is one such wash rim view looking down into the wash and showing the extensive areas of the wash edge slopes with color. Unlike the wash bottoms where flash floods regularly carry away plants and seeds or the hard plateau surfaces between washes where soils are often thin and hard, the edge slopes offer nicely soft soil conditions. And during windy weather these depressions in the landscape are more likely to collect settling wind blown annual seeds than the plateau tops.


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Here in image above is a view along the top of a wash rim with a large round brittlebush with just buds at center foreground. The rounded plant and rounded edge of rim plays geometrical tricks with the eye providing a dynamic illusion. Mid ground frame right is a desert agave bearing its towering dried husk monument grown the previous year. Behind a couple barrel cactus mid center left are magenta blooms of a beavertail cactus. In a few weeks the Bigelow's monkeyflower and Parish's poppies will have gone to seed, however this scene will still be quite colorful with ocotillo displaying long red flower terminal panicles, brittlebush willl be bright yellow balls, and many more cactus will be in peak bloom.


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This next image above was shot from the top of a Yaqui Meadows plateau with a large dense patch of Bigelow's monkeyflower creating a wonderfully colorful scene. Beyond the poppies at foreground center are a couple of buckhorn cholla cactus and a barrel cactus that had fallen over leaving a dark black end where it entered the ground. Such fallen barrel cacti are common and no doubt the result of wind.

With harsh late morning light upon us again, we headed back to our vehicles where we were met by a friendly barking dog courtesy of an RV camper that came up to us tail wagging for a pat on the back. It was time to depart from the dirt road maze, resupply down in Borrego Springs, and make plans for the following days. After refilling our water bottles, visiting the market, and topping off gas, we drove south a few dozen miles on highway S2 to Sweeney Pass. However landscapes were much drier than during my visit in 2005 despite the recommendations of volunteers behind the counter at the visitor center. Oh there were wildflowers of many species populating road sides though numbers were mediocre. A couple hours later we were back up in Borrego Valley where we drove out on a very dusty Diorgio Road that had numerous visitor cars moving in both directions and in 90F plus midday heat walked out without any gear most of a mile into desert gold sunflowers to see what the area might offer. Unlike in 2005 or even during my 2008 visit, Coyote Creek did not have any surface water. Weary from that effort, we drove back down the road and conveniently parked in the shade of road side trees where we lethargically spent the next couple hours lazing in our driver's seats.


As 4pm approached we were back on the road. Our plan was to return to Yaqui Meadows in order to pleasantly disperse camp but in a different part of that zone than we had explored previously. Thus drove out onto a new area and found a quite nice place with some fine ocotillo to set up camp within a wash. After settling in a bit we grabbed our gear and set out on exploration of a couple miles of interesting up and down rambling that showed the areas we had worked was likely the best in the zone and instead we ought go somewhere else in the morning.


Dawn skies for Wednesday March 15 offered lots of high clouds so I was outside early setting up my tripod for a ocotillo sky silhouette. That resulted in the two above modest images. We had decided to hike up the state park's most popular trail, Borrego Palm Canyon, that starts at the main park campground and climbs up the canyon about a mile and one half. By time we reached the park entrance, many others apparently had the same plan and we barely were able to fit into parking spots at the trailhead before access was blocked off. Sluggishly getting our gear together, we eventually began making our way up the heavily used trail where many others were going in both directions.


Plants in the area, both perenials and annuals were huge with mountain slopes very green. Those stating that the current bloom was the best in over 20 years were no doubt narrowly thinking of this area that indeed received exceptional precipitation. However such was a local phenomenon unlike 2005 that had heavy rains over all our desert regions. Skies continued to be overcast to the east but as we climbed the canyon, blue skies were moving east. About half way up the route, the stream that was only underground lower down, refreshingly appeared on the surface. We stopped to work a particularly dense patch of chuparosa, blue phacelia, fiddleneck, and popcorn flower but not long later I noticed I had left my A6000 focus mode in Manual focus instead of Auto spot focus I normally use. By time we reached the icon palm grove, sunshine had moved in over the area. We took a few token photos and then found a nice shady stream side pool to rest awhile at. On the return hike I shot the same subject above I had flubbed coming in, however would have preferred the earlier diffuse cloud light.


Close to the trailhead we came upon a group of feeding male desert bighorn sheep that the canyon and its oasis spring is famous for. They were obviously used to seeing lots of humans so went about their business while several people fired off telephoto images. A couple times 2 sheep banged their horns against each other that made for a wonderfully loud sound that echoed about the canyon walls. I caught one animal above making a lips peeled back facial expression of enjoyment while rubbing its rear end against a bush.

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   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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