The serpent rose from the desert floor and ribboned across the road, towering over us. Its dragon-like head bared fangs and spike-like teeth, frozen in mid-roar.
“Should we wait for the tail to cross the road?”, I asked. Greg smiled and drove the car onto the sand to get a closer look. “Incredible!”, I exclaimed staring up at the gigantic, rust colored creature. Stretching 350 feet long it arched across the sand, tail and head separated by a two lane road.
Our day trip to Borrego Springs in the southern California desert led us to the magical outdoor “gallery” at Galleta Meadows Estate, a unique collaboration of land preservation and art. The private estate is open to the public thanks to the generosity of the late Dennis Avery, whose passion for open space and paleontology inspired him to commission famed metal sculptor, Ricardo Breceda’s renditions of life-size and larger-than-life prehistoric animals. The project grew and today an eclectic mix of dinosaurs, mythical creatures, raptors, camels, wild horses and more dot the desert scape. Unsuspecting visitors could easily be caught by surprise. There are no entrance gates. Creatures merely begin appearing along Borrego Springs Road transforming the desert into a surreal fantasy land.
Continuing our desert safari, we slung our backpacks on and followed our hiking boots up the Palm Canyon Nature Trail in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Always on wildlife alert, we scouted for Peninsular Bighorn Sheep as we trekked the rocky, easy-to-moderate trail under bright sunny skies. Greg patiently waited each time I stopped at a numbered marker, pulled out the guide and read a snippet aloud describing a feature along the trail. In the lead, he called the numbers out to me but by #7, he seemed to miss a few. I think he secretly hoped I would too! Personally, I found all my 14 recitations quite informative. We saw beavertail and cholla cacti, inhaled the scent of desert lavender, and learned that the Cahuilla Indians lived in Palm Canyon because of its flowing stream and afternoon shade provided by tall canyon walls. The trail turn around point, a circle of giant palms near the stream, was aptly named an oasis. Stepping into the circle, we relaxed in the refreshing damp coolness and shade of the palm frond ceiling.
Greg suggested we take an alternate trail back. Hmmm….. better bighorn scouting or no re-runs of trail marker readings? Despite scouring the terrain, the bighorns remained elusive. Until, buff colored “rocks” seemed to move in the valley. Hoping the heat wasn’t getting the best of us we scrambled down the trail and to our delight we found a herd of 15 Bighorn Sheep, including 5 rams, grazing in a dry creek bed. Aware of our presence, yet undisturbed, they continued munching for about an hour as Greg’s camera shutter clicked away. A fitting ending to our hike in the desert as Borrego means “sheep” in Spanish.
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