Sunday, January 11, 2009

Another Birthday Trip

Those who check in regularly on these pages may have been wondering about the silence for the past four days. I've been gone. In recent years, lacking inspiration for gifts of a material nature, I have been planning a trip of some kind to celebrate Ellie's birthday. This year, given the state of the economy--and indeed the uncertain state of everything in the world--we decided to stay relatively close to home, and my mind turned to Borrego Springs, out in the California desert, where some much valued old friends have been running the Borrego Valley Inn for the past few years. We had enjoyed our visit to Joshua Tree a while back, so the desert--a very different one, as it turned out--called again.

The Anza-Borrego Desert is best known for its spectacular wildflower season, which comes after the rains, in the early spring. January is too early for that event, but the desert proved a truly magical destination nonetheless. We drove south along the ocean from Laguna Beach, turning inland from Oceanside along Highway 76--one long development area of malls and housing tracts for many miles, but turning into a beautiful scenic road once you get past Interstate 15. These days a number of the Indian bands whose reservations dot the highway on either side have rescued their previously dire fortunes with the building of casinos--a sad commentary, I have always thought, on the erosion of proud cultures at the hands of an occupying force: our Western selves.

We stopped in Julian, a little apple town we had visited many years before, and found it little changed, thought perhaps a little more geared up for the tourist trade. We paused in our wandering at a marvelous second-hand bookstore, cleverly dispersed among the rooms of a tiny house so that everything was neatly organized, easy to find; and stopped, next, at the cottage restaurant next door for a good bowl of soup for lunch. Then off down Highway 79 and into the back country, taking the narrow S3 high up over the mountains and down to where Borrego Springs nestles on the desert floor.

After a little trial and error up and down the main drag of the town, we were delighted to turn into the driveway at our destination and find the warm, southwestern architecture of our friends' inn--basically two long-low buildings with guest rooms on each side of a carefully-raked courtyard with cactus, succulents, and a cheerfully-inhabited finch cage at the center; and a third building with a communal lounge and greeting area at one end.

The far end offers the amenity of a sun-flooded pool and spa and, behind one of the guest buildings, an alternative, clothing-optional pool area for the more adventurous souls--or the more foolhardy, like ourselves, who had simply forgotten to bring swimsuits and were grateful to have the option to enjoy the spa, appropriately for Ellie, in our birthday suits.

No pictures of those particular moments, sorry! In fact, one of the other things we had forgotten--we had a strange start, and had forgotten a number of essential items incuding this, the most important: the camera. What you see here are pictures taken with my cell phone--some of which turned out good enough for the personal memory, but this little device, though a life-saver in this circumstance, was really not up to capturing the intense beauty of the desert. Here's the area immendiately around the inn, where we took a long walk that first afternoon:

After this initial exploration of our surroundings, we took a shower and headed into town for dinner at Carlee's, not three minutes from the inn. Country music, a convivial grouping of booths around the central bar--a real American eatery. And the food was great! We each ordered a short rack of ribs--something we rarely if ever eat--and were treated to an enormous plate of truly delicious barbequed meat, far too much to possibly eat. We each took a half of our half-rack home, wondering who on earth could possibly tackle a full one.

Next day was our only full day to explore the part, and we started out at the fine visitor's center, where there was plenty of information available about the history, geography and geology of the desert, and some excellent displays. Then off to the Palm Canyon hike--a long trek up into the hills along a trail...

... that increasingly involved scampering up and around massive boulders and fording a still running stream--up to a lovely oasis at the top, a thick, almost impenetrable stand of palm trees and intense, lush green plant life stimulated by the springs.

The hike up the trail and back down into the valley took the better part of the day, and we were both suffering from sore legs by the time we returned to the inn for a nap (P) and a session with the pastels (E) before soaking in the spa.

We had arranged for an evening our with our friends, Rich and Gwenn, and were treated on our way to meeting them with the vision of a glorious moonrise over the distant mountains...

(So sad, to have forgotten the camera. I had other pictures of this spectactular event, but they are unusable!) Our first stop of the evening was an exhibition of "Paint by the Numbers" paintings from the 1950's in a shop that specializes in mid-century collectibles. Interesting stuff. The pictures were pretty amazing, ranging from the familar landscapes to religious iconography including, to my surprise, a Paint by the Numbers version of The Last Supper. Very odd, and oddly charming.

A long, pleasant evening at a local Italian restuarant, then, spent indulging in the excellent food and a couple of bottles of wine, and catching up with friends we had not seen in quite a while. Formerly city-dwellers, they have re-located to this remote area and thrive on the upkeep of their beautiful inn and on the community of which it is a part--the kind of community where you can know, and be known by everyone, and where mutal friendship, mutual cooperation and concern is the life-blood of the social organization.

I was up early the following morning and out across the desert floor, determined to catch the sunrise. Again, my apologies and regrets for the quality of the pictures, but the moment was unforgettable in its beauty. Here comes the sun...

... and here....

... reflecting its pink glow against the mountains to the west.

Sunday morning, then, and time to leave--but not before an excellent breakfast. Rich and Gwenn had chose this day to experminent with a new offering: a selection of breakfast paninis, a crisp sandwich of bacon and egg, or goat's cheese and tomato, or peanut butter and banana! Delicious, with a mug of excellent coffee. We said fond goodbyes, with promises to return, and set off back home with a brief stop in the lovely little Surprise Canyon...

... where we took a whole lot more unusable pictures. Damn! We were grateful for the remarkable cell phone camera--who would have thought it, ten years ago?--but wished we had something better to show for the incredible beauty of every corner of this remarkable landscape.

Taking the back way home, we stopped in Temecula where, years ago, we had whiled a few pleasant hours, and were disappointed to find it horribly Disneyfied, with music blaring from lousdpeakers installed on the lamp-posts up and down the cluttered streets. Then on up to Lake Elsinore, a drive along the lovely lake, and up into the mountains to the west of the lake, and down the other side to where we found the blue Pacific shimmering under beautiful clear skies to greet us home.


robin andrea said...

What a grand birthday journey. Your cell phone did a pretty good job capturing the beauty of the environment there.

Anonymous said...

I especially like the light on those mountains.

Happy Birthday to your wife.

roger said...

love the desert. thanks for the pix.

happy b'day ellie.

Matthew said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip, and the pictures are great. Happy Birthday, Ellie. Sorry we didn't get a chance to speak on the day.