Saturday, September 29, 2012
Just as we pull into our campsite at Mercey Hot Springs, the harvest full moon emerges from behind the distant brown hills. It travels quickly and, within moments, it clears the obscuring earth. The moon sails upward like a radiant bubble drifting to the heavens. It is our first full day of The Big Trip. I sit and watch the moon, listening to random people sounds, the evening birds and, in the gaps, a vast silence befitting the barren landscape.
Mercy Hot Springs, near Firebaugh CA, is our go-to place for instant R & R, a good spot to start decompressing after several months of intense work and preparation. This area is relatively close to Santa Cruz but is truly another world. Instead of huge trees, dense forests and regular fog, you’ll find an arid land of treeless hills and mountains dressed in infinite shades of ocher, umber, and sienna. The springs are surrounded by open land that one can wander through. Nearby is BLM property and the Little Panoche Reservoir and Ecological Area. Mercy Hot Springs is truly an oasis if you are seeking either water or restoration. There were more people there than we had ever seen before but we knew most would be leaving next day, Sunday.
We had left home Friday afternoon; our deadline was a goodbye dinner at Chris’s sister’s in Menlo Park. We spent our first night there. The daunting task of finishing all cleaning, packing and moving last items into the basement, and making the final choice of what to bring, seemed impossible to complete. But we did it. After a short ceremony of offering tobacco, giving thanks and wishing a good year for the new occupants and the local creatures, we left. Our house would be home to another couple for the year. I had fantasized many times about the initial drive down our mountains to start our trip. When it actually came we found ourselves in a strange mix of exhaustion and excitement and wondering what the hell were doing.
After errands on Saturday morning in Palo Alto area we headed south to this remote spot. As we neared the hot springs, spying a tarantula crossing the road, we pulled over and jumped out to gawk and photograph. I am excited to see the autumn emergence of tarantulas. Many people, locally and afar, are unaware of this event and the existence of these massive spiders in central California. Mostly they go unseen, living underground, coming out only in darkness. Fall is mating season and the males are out in daylight seeking females. I love seeing these enormous, scary, hairy creatures casually strolling about the countryside. Soon Henry Coe State Park in Morgan Hill will be hosting the annual Tarantula Festival.
The first morning at the hot springs, I went on an a stroll up the closest hillside so take in the vast views; each time I see this landscape, the light and colors are new. We are in the midst of a record heat wave, exceeding 100 degrees. The middle hours of the day turns into a long siesta. Too hot to move, too hot to think. Our campsite faucet has the coolest water around so I spray my head and feet regularly. The coolest water at the springs seems to be tepid, but tepid is refreshing compared to blazing, burning heat.
A few special sightings: long-eared owls, Coopers hawk, jack rabbit, praying mantis, and a new flower to me: Vinegar Weed (supposedly smells like vinegar but it smells like a strong dose of tea tree oil to me.)
So far, confusion and chaos reign as we try to figure out what we actually need and how to organize the camper. This has led to occasional frustration and short tempers. We had hoped to go on a couple shakedown cruises but had run out of time. We now have lists of what we meant to bring but forgot, what we should have brought but didn’t, and what we did bring that is extra.
We are slowing down, inwardly re-calibrating, reorienting ourselves for our new life. Right now I only hear the cheery chirping of house finches and the undulating roar of the warm breezes through the trees.
NEXT STOP? We will likely next go to Henry Coe State Park. If you have any recommendation on activities, special places, trails there or nearby, let me know. NOTE: I have a kayak and Chris has a mountain bike. We like to hike, swim, see wildlife and photograph. We like wildness and isolation.