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Back to Borrego, Barefoot

February 27, 2017

“Are we there yet?”

One of my favorite still-happenin’ family traditions started in the early 1960s: a late-winter camping weekend at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, during which a 3-mile hike up Palm Canyon was mandatory.

This past weekend my motley crew of siblings and our kids and grandkids enjoyed classic desert weather (brilliant sunshine-then wind-then-rain) and extraordinary green-ness and wildflower-wow as we waxed nostalgic whilst also creating new desert memories with the next generation.


The 21st century twist? I now spend the entire weekend shoe-less–something my reputation-aware parents would never have allowed.

As the years and miles have passed, others in my extended family have dabbled in barefootery with me, with our Palm Canyon hike providing an excellent reason to remove the shoes: multiple water crossings.


The first of many creek crossings on the way to the palm grove.

My obvious delight in wading through the shallow cobbles seems to have been an inspiration: all but one of the hikers in the photo above had their shoes off by the time we had crossed a few more times.



(The trick is getting someone else to CARRY those shoes!)


Along with barefoot-appreciation, I hope to instill in my grandkids an awareness of (and love for) the amazing life of the desert . . . what lovelier place to start than by noticing wildflowers, like the teeny-tiny Bigelow’s Monkey Flower these three young fingers are pointing out.


Did somebody say “wildflowers?” Late February is pretty early in the bloom season, but there was already much to admire:


The tiniest poppy ever (Eschscholzia minutiflora) and wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor) gladden the trail. Or at least our hearts.

Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) with popcorn flowers and/or clouds: either way a cheerful combo.


Brown-eyed primrose (Chylismia claviformis) is part of a big family (yep. way bigger than mine): about 650 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees that occur on every continent. Here’s an inspiring quote for aspiring herablists: “All of the Gauras, Epilobiums, Oenotheras and other closely allied Onagraceae family members are both cooling and moistening. They tend to be astringent, mucilaginous and relaxing, with a taste that is usually bland and sweet, although some Oenothera spp. have a peppery bite to them. They also tend to be high in oils, especially in the flowers and copious seedpods. All of this makes them an excellent overall nourishing Summer tonic where signs of heat, dryness and tension are present.”


Cheerful pink sand verbena (Abronia villosa), whose traditional uses include both external as a poultice as well as a concoction taken as a diuretic.


Wild heliotrope (Phacelia distans): the pre-bloom greens can be steamed and eaten, as we learn by researching the ingenuity of earlier People.


Brilliant scarlet chuparosa: named after the hummingbirds which it attracts. But bees also find it delectable and make the entire shrub hum.


The above plant has captivated me so much on visits to Anza Borrego that I have attempted to grow it in captivity in my back yard. Desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) does not exactly thrive in inland Orange County, but if I can keep all water away from it in the summer, it blooms (as I write this!) just steps from my back door, with a scent that is reminiscent of lavender but infinitely more wild and delicious. The photo above was taken at sunrise, when all are transformed–desert, sky, even me–into an ephemeral glow show:




Then the weather changes; in the desert, wind will shake you awake with tent flapping, and Easy-Ups going easily down.


Rain high in the mountains, but none on us–just a rainbow-reminder:


So many photos! So much desert wildlife! (I call this one “braid-mania.”)



This critter has the Best. Name. Ever. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion. Its sting is supposed to be way less toxic/painful than other scorpions, which I wish I would have known when I was attempting this addition to my “bare feet with critter” image collection . . . the blurry image is the result of being in a bit of a hurry to get my foot back out of striking range. Yikes . . . 

On a more feathered note: here’s a black-throated sparrow that was singing the morning away perched high in a desert lavender:

This blog post is starting to feel like one of those (1960s) neighborhood slide shows where the carousels of over-exposed images taken by someone else’s Nikon never seem to end and you are desperate for some excuse to leave the room.

So let’s leave where we began: happily hiking the Palm Canyon Trail barefoot with my fabulous family.  The desert is a rough, beautiful, fragile, life-giving, deadly place. Go for the wide-open sky (the stars! some day I’ll figure out how to get them inside my camera), stay for the endless surprises.


And take a kid or two with you . . .

Happy Wildflowery Trails!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paula Peeters permalink
    March 19, 2017 3:23 pm

    Wow! Thanks Thea for another beautiful post 😊 Great to see your wildflowers, like wild relatives of garden varieties, so different from the ones here.

    • March 20, 2017 3:51 pm

      Thanks, Paula! If only all of our own (human) “wild relatives” were as lovely 🙂

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