Anza Borrego: Palm Canyon

Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep in Palm Canyon

January 30. With two of us and our dog Carson, we decided we’d take turns hiking. Dogs are not permitted on the trails in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Many of the trails run through canyons that are home to wildlife. Joann hiked the trail the previous evening and reported seeing sheep. I opted for a morning hike thinking I’d be more likely to see sheep then, and I thought the soft morning light might be conducive to photographing wildlife. Once the sun was over the canyon I imagined the lighting would be harsh.

It’s a mile and a half from the trail head at the campground to the palm oasis. Along the trail there are numbered post that correspond to descriptions in a printed guide. I had picked up a guide at the visitor center the previous day and I used the guide to learn more about the desert environment.

For this hike I decided to carry my Nikon D800 and a 28-300mm lens. For day hikes I usually carry a little Sony RX 100 which is a great camera for travel and hiking. For this hike I thought the opportunity to photograph wildlife warranted the bigger camera.

I wasn’t too far down the trail before I heard rock falling which I interpreted to mean sheep were near. Sure enough, scouting the cliffs above the trail I could see sheep cavorting in the rocks. Then I rounded a bend in the trail and I could see a ram ahead hidden partially through the bushes. I stopped and slowly brought my camera up to my face and started taking photos. The ram didn’t seem to take much notice of me. Then I spied a ewe with a baby lamb making way down the hill side. I found a palm log to sit while I took a few photos, trying to be quiet and still so as not to startle the animals. After a few minutes I could hear breathing behind me, almost down my neck, I turned slowly and there were two rams munching on the grass just five feet away. I was in awe. These animals are supposed to be shy and reclusive, but it seems here they have become habituated to people. They just seemed to go about their business munching the lush grass while people walked up and down the trail taking photos.

After watching the sheep for some time, I decided I better continue to the palm grove. If I were ever going to get back to camp at a reasonable time I needed to get moving. At the end of the trail is a lush oasis of palm trees.

More photos are available on my website.

African Safari: Day 10

Game Drive. Lion’s Paw Camp on the eastern rim of Ngorongoro Crater. At 0515 I’m awakened from a greeting from outside the tent, “good morning.” I respond in kind saying “good morning” to our steward. We join our guide, David for breakfast in the dining tent. Breakfast includes fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, watermelon), coffee, toast with jam, eggs, sausage and bacon. At 6:00 we lave the dining tent for the short walk to the truck. The air is heavy with mist and swirling clouds, and despite my thermal layer I feel a bit of a chill at 7000 feet. No sign of the sun yet, but our goal is to get to the crater floor ahead of the army of tourists that will be descending into the crater from the western rim, where most of the tours originate. Lion’s Paw is a bit remote and off the beaten track. We were, in fact, the only guests in camp. We felt well taken care of there with the staff of five to serve the three of us. The road into the crater is a steep narrow dirt track, and we find ourselves “herding” the zebras and Cape Buffalo off the road as we made our slow descent. Our goal is to hunt for elephant and rhinos, since we’ve already had the opportunity to view most of the animals that habituate the crater. And sure enough, with David’s expert knowledge and sharp eyes we find our first elephant shortly after sunrise. We spend a fair amount of time watching him pull up grass, knocking the dirt clods off and munching mouthfuls. Then it’s off to hunt for rhinos. We find a pair, at quite a distance. It turns out that rhinos are shy of noise and prefer to keep their distance from the noise of safari vehicles. None-the-less, it’s exciting to watch from a distance with binoculars and a long lens. We continue our tour of the crater floor stopping for Thompson’s gazelle, buffalo, zebras, hippos, lions and a variety of other birds and wildlife. At the hippo pool David sets up the picnic that the camp provided. Complete with china, table cloth, table and chairs. We compete with some pesty and colorful birds for our lunch fixings. After lunch we continue our drive. Now it’s the light that fascinates me. Rays of sun shining through clouds and lighting up the wildlife and crater walls.
It’s 3:00 Pm when we return to camp. A long enough day.