In The Desert
Content including photographs are Copyright © 2014 - Present - Don & Linda Gilmore
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Author, Dave Taylor
Editor's Note: What could possibly go wrong if you planned to spend Easter in the desert Southwest's most southerly reaches? Nice sunny weather with great tempertures and clear skies. Leave it to Dave Taylor to find out. Dave, friends and family have a surprise for you!
The icy wind cut through the sycamores and right through me. I studied the boiling clouds coming over the mountains to the west. The paddle cactus and creosote trembled in the wind.
"Jeez, at this rate it's gonna rain."
"That's the prediction of my favorite weather website," Richard answered as we stood near the vehicles, some distance from the camp. I snapped my eyes to him.
"Storm," He said, admiring the contorting, blackening sky. "Heavy precipitation and freezing temperatures in the Cuyamaca Region and all points east."
I turned to him and squared my shoulders.
"Why didn't ya' tell me?"
Richard's almond Asian face split with a savage smile.
"I just did."
Oriflamme Canyon is in the southwest corner of the Anza-Borrego desert, backed up into the Laguna Mountains. A series of springs bubble to the surface in this canyon that turns into a year-long stream that meanders east, slowly disappearing into the sand. It's a spit of forest fingering down into the desert. The Indians, besides leaving morteros, built stone dams to make pools of water. Here, you stand in the shade of large old trees next to still and then rushing waters, then climb up, step into the sun among brittle brush and paddle cactus, creosote and sage. In the summer it's like stepping up into an oven. This time, cold needles of wet wind stabbed us.
Although we didn't know it at the time, we were on private property. Now it's apart of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and, ironically, where we camped is forever lost to us. Still, the closest route to this oasis requires four-wheel drive along the treacherous dirt road that once was called the Jack Ass Trail. It's passable in good weather. I've never tried it in the rain.
My wife stoked the fire as I told her what Richard had said. She looked upstream. The thickness of the trees and brush told us it hadn't been ravaged by a flash flood for many years, if ever. In the 30's this area had been a WPA camp. There's still hints of that past manifestation, a concrete foundation, overgrown roads marked neatly with stones, occasional fireplaces made from the local stone. It's one of those charmed places that haunt me.
Easter at Oriflamme Cathedral
The branches on the Sycamore swung wildly, leaves hissing in the wind, biting through our camp.
"No way we can get out'a here before dark."
I walked up to where Richard and Marc had parked their trucks. They sat on the tailgate of Richard's Bronco, with my four-year-old son Alex wedged in between them, sheltered from the wind.
"We're staying, right?"
"Oh yeah," Marc answered. I felt like a very old man. Richard and Marc were thrilled by the prospect of a wild storm. I was the one responsible, though, for my wife, my son, two friends that were young enough to be my sons and two girls from another country.
Two French girls, college exchange students who lived with my mother-in-law. We'd invited them along, and now I couldn't imagine a worse circumstance to have initiated them into our style of camping. We were as far removed from humanity as we could get, and normally, I love this. But I saw them now, huddling close to each other, speaking their language, looking up, standing by their tent that we had erected under the groaning trees.
"Can the Easter Bunny find us here?" my son asked. I tried to smile.
"You betcha he can."
"Unless a coyote or a mountain lion runs him down," Richard offered. Marc gave Richard a daggered look.
"What?" Richard asked.
"I am sure," I started, "that there is an understanding that the Easter Bunny is exempt from the Food Chain."
I could see my wife putting the grill over the fire.
"Referencing the food chain, don't wander off, steaks are almost on," I pointed at my son. "Want me to get him out'a your hair?"
"No no," Richard countered.
"We're talking politics," Marc continued.
"I'm just hanging with the guys, Daddy," my four-year old added.
I nodded and started down.
"Uncle Richard," Alex asked. "What's a food chain?"
I glanced back and saw Richard's eyes light up.
We ate steaks, flour tortillas and ranch-style beans. In the growing wind and darkness, any pleasure was lost. No one spoke, but we glanced at each other as we huddled around the fire.
In this silent crowd, it dawned on me that I wasn't going to church on Easter. I don't know how that reality had escaped me, but now it seemed to be one more mis-step piling on. I grimaced at the thermometer, thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit, 2 degrees Centigrade, and wondered after my soul.
"Delphine, Alexandra," Richard asked. "Do you camp in France? Y'know, camp?"
"But of course," Delphine answered with a tone that re-enforced all kinds of Gallic stereotypes.
"How's that work?"
Alexandra and Delphine looked at each other and shrugged.
"You go to camp, with friends, classmates, you sit around the fire, sing songs, drink hot chocolate."
"Set up tents?" Richard pressed. "Sleep in tents?"
"No no, after dinner at the chalet you go back to your cabins."
"But you must help clean the dishes first," Alexandra added.
I closed my eyes and prayed.
You won't want to miss Part II