Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zen Retreat

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

There is a Zen Retreat, called the Mountain Spirit Center, here in the canyon. (Lucky for me, since we have no zebras, or any canyon related things beginning with the letter Z, that I can think of for this last post of the Challenge.) Rachael came up one day last October and we visited the retreat. I wrote two posts about this very special serene and peaceful place. You can read about our visit in more detail here and here. 

After a nice drive on a sandy canyon road, surrounded by mountains, we arrived at the welcome sign.

This beautiful structure contains a peace bell.

The picture of the bell didn't come out well, but you can see the size of it.

The structure is colorful and bold. 

There are two temples at the retreat.

Interesting rock formations that looked like sentries, 

are keeping watch over the retreat. 

Leaving our shoes outside, we went into the first temple.

Rachael lit some incense and we sat a while on mats on the floor. I remember we prayed for Rachael's grandmother, who had just had a heart attack and was in critical condition in a Minnesota hospital. I am happy to let you know that grandma survived and is doing OK now.

Rachael outside the temple.

And, finally, the photo that pleasantly surprised me. I thought I took a picture of a bridge with railings, but I had no idea that the shadows were there. It looks like such a well thought out and creative picture, but it was just sheer luck.

I think this photo is a good choice for the last photo of the A to Z Challenge, April 2011. It has been a pleasure to get to know new bloggers, to read so many interesting posts, to learn so much, and to get such wonderful feedback from those of you who commented on my posts. Thank you so much for following my journey from A to C through a Desert Canyon in California.

I plan to take a few days off from blogging to get over this bronchial infection I have. I'm thinking of writing a wrap up of all the fun I had with the Challenge. I also want to  respond to some of your comments and welcome new followers with links to their blogs so you can check them out. Take care and have a great weekend.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Yap, Yelp, Yip and Yowl

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

Yap, yelp, yip and yowl are all sounds made by coyotes,

native animals of the canyon.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for X-ing

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

The are two railroad X-ings in the center of town and this one, which is on my way to town. I only take the highway if I have an appointment. If I don't, I much prefer this country road and, if a train comes by, I never mind waiting for it to pass. 

This post and tomorrow's will be short. I have come down with bronchitis or some really bad chest cold, so I'm off to bed to rest for at least today. It would be so cool to have a laptop, but I don't. As Samson (my blogging dog) would say: Have a nice day everyone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Wind, Wind Farms, and Wildflowers

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

I had planned to write about Wind today, since it's constantly blowing in the canyon and we have had wind advisories (gusts over 45 mph) practically every day lately, with winds between 25 and 35 mph and gusts of 65 – 70 mph, more in the canyons and passes. But reading about all the rain, floods, tornadoes and loss of life in so many parts of the country, I didn't feel like writing and maybe complaining about Wind.  

Instead, I decided to write about how wind is managed and harnessed here in the mountains where I live. The Tehachapi Pass is one of the windiest regions in the world, with winds averaging 14 to 20 miles per hour throughout the year. So it's natural that Tehachapi became the birthplace of wind power in North America. The first turbines were installed here in the 1980s and now the highest ones reach 400 and 500 feet. They are scary huge!

I googled our wind farms and learned that with around 5,000 turbines in the Tehachapi Pass, we have the second largest number of wind turbines in the world and the largest in terms of output. The wind farms provide electricity to 350,000 residential customers each year. That sounded pretty good, but at the end of the paragraph it stated that wind power generated by the state's more than 15,000 turbines makes up only 1% of California's electricity.  That didn't sound like much, considering how much space these 5,000 or so take up in our mountains. The turbines are operated by a dozen private companies that provide work for around 400 employees. 

I stopped here the other day to take some photos of the lake that so mysteriously appeared in a normally dry field. I wrote about this lake in an earlier post. It is now much smaller, but continues outside of the picture. Still, you can see how it stands out, blue and pretty, in the desert landscape. And, as a bonus, I got some pretty good pictures of the wind farms. Wild mustangs roam up there and I always hope to see them when we drive through those mountains. So far, no luck with that.

Here are some scary pictures of Wind.  I figured flags would show off the wind best, but with no flags in sight, I used my hair 

and a sheet on my laundry line to demonstrate the power of the wind. I have better photos than this, but for some reason this one spoke to me.

I haven't been out yet to take pictures of the wildflowers that I know are covering the hillsides all around us. 

I will go on a photo safari in the hills soon. These pretty white, daisy-like, flowers are in my back yard. It's an evening shot, so not a clear one. 

The fields are so gorgeous, covered with these tiny 

lavender/pink flowers. Since we had so much rain this past winter, the spring flowers will be gorgeous and plentiful in the canyon. 

Angel is enjoying this field of wildflowers and I'm looking forward to finding a lot more to share.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vast

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

This is the Mojave Desert in California, a vast and rugged place. The photos in this post only cover about 50 miles from the small desert town of Mojave to the larger cities of Palmdale and Lancaster. The desert in these photos is about 3,000 ft above sea level.  Death Valley, the lowest, hottest place in the United States is also located in the Mojave Desert

In spring, many parts of the high desert are covered in flowers. 

The sky is vast in the desert. Once I saw a sunrise here, coloring the desert pink with a blue haze surrounding the mountains. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. After that, I was in love with this place.

Here gray rabbitbrush line the highway.

Some vegetation looks bad with dried out branches, barely alive.

Mountains border the Mojave.  

 Buttes and mesas rise up from the desert floor.

 Highways cut through it.

Cities are built in it.

This is such a small slice of the Mojave Desert, but I think that even the 50 miles that I most often drive will give you a sense of how vast it is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Under Ground

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

When we first moved here our yard was overrun by rabbits, both cottontail and Jack rabbits, at least 20 to 25 were in our yard every day and many more all over the property. They had their warrens under the junipers and seemed to be healthy and thriving. Then they disappeared. We saw very few, even when we hiked. It was very strange and I have no explanation for it. For several years very few animals lived in our yard. Then this year, it exploded with activity. We had a mild and rainy winter, maybe that's why so many burrowing critters have decided to come and live under ground here. My husband dreams of a garden; I think we have our work cut out for us. 

Gophers make these mounds

and this year our yard is full of them. It will be difficult to mow even. I think many gophers will decide to leave once we start to work outside, mowing and trimming grass and weeds. Pocket gophers have pouches in their cheeks that are used for transporting food. I also learned that their lips can be closed behind their incisors so that they can use their incisors to loosen dirt and roots without getting their mouths full of dirt.

Here is that cute little gopher baby that popped up earlier this spring. 

This is a hole made by ground squirrels under some rocks in our yard. There are several entrances to their burrows around these rocks. 

This is the same rock that the sentry quail used for his lookout. It seems to function perfectly for this purpose. This California ground squirrel will sit up, pull his front legs up against his chest, and give warning if he senses any danger. 

This box sits away from the house and contains some leftover building materials. A family of ground squirrels has decided it makes for a safe and comfortable home. These photos of a mother and two or three youngsters are from last summer. I took it from inside the house and used both zoom and enlarged it to get something of a photo, and this is the best my camera and I could do.

Here she turns around. I have been spotted! Most ground squirrels hibernate during the winter months; these guys did not. Instead, they would come out on sunny days, even when snow was on the ground, and sit on the roof of their box home and sun themselves. 

Cute as these guys are, they do a tremendous damage to crops and gardens. They are also carriers of disease, including plague. We have a lot of ground squirrels right now. I will keep an eye on them and see how many will just move out after we become more present outside.

They have already figured out that the dogs are no threat while in their dog run. Samson and Soldier charge them a lot, barking fiercely, but the ground squirrels know they are safe and will only move away when I come out.

We have other holes as well, all kinds of holes. Some covered up with fine webs, belonging to tarantulas. You don't see them very often, but they live here too. Snakes and lizards take cover under ground as well. And then there are the ants, those nasty little ants with their distinctive holes, looking like doughnuts. If you consider they are such tiny little critters, the perfectly formed round mounds they make are pretty amazing. But they bite something fierce so they are not welcome here. It's still too cold for them, so I have no photos to share.

I imagine a network of tunnels and burrows down there, under ground, with animals sleeping, eating, mating, and raising their young while we walk in ignorance above. 

(I lost my formatting on this post and I don't have time to fix it. It's hard for me to let go when it doesn't look right, but maybe there is a lesson in there for me.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Trains

My theme for the A to Z Challenge: Desert Canyon Living

T could also be for trucks, which, in addition to trains, travel through Tehachapi in huge numbers each day. It's all about transporting goods from northern California and the San Joaquin Valley to points south and east. But trains came first. 

I love trains so much, my husband knows and gave me this book for a birthday present a few years ago. It tells the story of how the rails were laid across the Tehachapi mountains, how the Tehachapi Loop came to be, and the history of trains in this area. The book is also full of very interesting, historical, photos of trains. This was a perfect gift that I had no idea my husband would find for me.

If you don't take the highway to town, you may have to stop at this railroad crossing. Something I never seem to mind.

This is the rebuilt railroad depot in town. The orgininal building was in the process of being renovated, firesprinklers were going to be installed that week, when on one summer's night in 2008, two drunks playing with firecrackers set the historic 100-year old building ablaze. The town pulled together and rebuilt it and it now serves as a museum.

The first winter we had our place, my husband took this sequence of photos of an approaching train. I have always loved the mood of these pictures, so I will share them without commentary.

At night, in the quiet right before I fall asleep, I often hear trains blow their whistles about four miles away and I dream about far away places. 


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