Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wildflowers in Borrego

We celebrated Bill's birthday this week with an overnight trip to Borrego Springs, where the wildflower bloom is at its peak. Go now if you can! It is truly spectacular. The photo above shows one of my favorites, the heliotrope, with a background of chuparosa (red) and fagonia (tiny purple). (Photo by Bill)

We joined a wildflower tour sponsored by the Anza-Borrego Natural History Foundation that went to Glorieta Canyon--a place we never would have found on our own. To get there, set your odometer at Christmas Circle and go 3.5 miles down Borrego Springs Road. Turn right onto an unmarked dirt road. The drive up to the canyon takes about 15 minutes. There is a barrel cacti forest along the road, and the farther you go, the more wildflowers you'll see.

This little treasure is called a ghost flower, and it created quite a bit of excitement among the tour group. It seems that they're quite uncommon. There was a whole colony of them climbing up a bank right beside the trail.

We stayed overnight and went back up the canyon the next day at our leisure. Here we have a baby lupine on the left and a monkey flower on the right.

Brittlebushes are everywhere with their bright yellow flowers. (Photo by Bill) The cacti blooms are beginning too, so if you go now, you can have it all!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Geothermal Plant

Our tour of the Salton Sea on President's Day Weekend included a visit to the Hoch Geothermal Plant, one of 10 plants scattered around the sea. The above photo shows Bill and me with our hard hats, goggles, and earplugs, three stories up next to a giant turbine.

The Salton Sea geothermal field was discovered in 1958 by some folks who dug a mile-deep well. Instead of oil or gas, they found superheated fluid--i.e., about 460 degrees. Today electricity is produced by bringing that fluid to the surface. The wells have to be lined with titanium because the fluid contains corrosive minerals. But power generation uses a closed system that's completely clean. What's escaping out of those smokestacks is pure steam.

This control room is the command center for five power plants. Altogether, the geothermal plants at the Salton Sea produce 335-340 MW of electricity per day. One MW is enough to power 750 residences. The biggest customer is Southern California Edison, followed by the County of Riverside. (Thanks to Bill for this photo.)

The resource could last another 100-200 years even if production doubled. The catch is more transmission lines would be needed--and because of their impact on the environment, it doesn't look like more transmission lines are going to be built.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Birding at the Salton Sea

A few weeks ago Bill and I went on a much-welcomed trip to Borrego Springs. Our main reason for going was to take an all-day tour of the Salton Sea sponsored by the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association. We drove down on a Friday, just catching the Borrego Farmer's Market before it closed at noon. We also stopped by a citrus ranch for grapefruit and lemons, and had a nice dinner at the Krazy Coyote.

The tour left from Borrego at 7:30 am on Saturday. The principal tour guide was Kurt Leuschner, birder extraodinaire. That's him in the center of the picture above, surrounded by serious birders. Kurt had a scope which enabled us to see the birds from afar. Our sightings included sandhill cranes, white-faced ibis, northern shovelers (ducks), great egrets, Chilean flamingos (we kid you not!)--the list goes on! The top picture on this post, taken by Bill at Rock Hill, is a giant flock of snow geese down from Canada.

This little guy is a burrowing owl. He stood right in front of his burrow and let us look him over. We were told they don't dig their own burrows, but rather use burrows left by other animals. Bill took this shot at Red Hill Marina.

Even though it was the weekend of the Salton Sea International Bird Festival, the only place we saw other birders was at this visitor center. The Salton Sea is a big place, after all!

Next week: the Geothermal Plant!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

China Ranch Date Farm

Just last night we were celebrating my friend Phyllis's birthday and some friends were talking about their recent visit to China Ranch Date Farm. Phyllis and I also visited the ranch on our wonderful Tecopa trip, so this blog post is the final installment about that trip!

China Ranch is remote. To get there, you wind down a narrow, steep canyon road. At the bottom it's like another world. The property got its name from a Chinaman who farmed it successfully around the turn of the last century. The dates came later, in the 1920s. Today the ranch is owned by descendants of the folks who first planted the dates.

This building holds a big gift shop along with a counter where you can get date shakes. The date nut bread is to die for! Just around the corner there's a bed and breakfast where you can stay either indoors or in teepees.

Instead of putting bags over the dates on the trees like other date farms do, China Ranch uses cast-off clothes from thrift stores. Desert ingenuity at work!

A new addition to the ranch is "A Modest Museum." Inside are photographs, artifacts, and tales of ranch history told with wry humor. There's also this box of rocks accompanied by the following poem: