Agua Caliente lies in the Anza-Borrego Desert at the eastern end of Vallecito Valley at the foot of the Tierra Blanca Mountains in Southern California where seismic activity created a spur of the Elsinore fault enabling water to come to the surface, which supports lush plant life and a wide variety of wildlife including the Bighorn Sheep. Minerals come up in the hot springs forming mounds of natural salt licks.
Bighorn sheep are on the federal list of endangered species and seem to be making a comeback in this area. An Agua Caliente County Park Ranger said there are about 13 of them here, so I was excited to have my first close encounter when I took a hike during our last camping trip and spotted four of them,
or more accurately, they spotted me. They prefer to graze on rocky ridges and slopes where they can spot and escape from predators.
I stopped in my tracks and quietly prepared my camera and spent the next forty minutes in their world. We saw eye to eye.
As long as I moved slowly and peacefully, they seemed comfortable in my presence.
They came down to feed,
Poet, artist, and author Marshal South, along with his family, lived on Ghost Mountain for years before they spotted a great ram while hiking near here. Marshal reported this experience in his article, Desert Refuge 41, December, 1944 issue of Desert Magazine:
As the dark body broke from the fringe of brush and leaped upon the lower rocks of a precipitous hillside not 30 yards distant, we saw that it was a great ram… a monarch among sheep. In that flash instant in which poised upon a boulder, he glanced back at us before starting upward; he was a sight to stop the heartbeat… he halted, appraising us. Then he started up, bounding swiftly up the almost perpendicular ridge with a sure footed skill that gave a deceptive illusion of leisurely ease… he reached the crest. Here, silhouetted against the hard blue of the sky, the tall sharp line of a dry mescal pole rising beside him like a lifted standard he paused again. Silence held the desert – and us – as for perhaps 20 seconds he stood outlined against space: A creature of freedom, gazing out across the rocks and ranges of his homeland in whose beetling cliffs and hidden canyons still some trace of dwindling freedom lingers. Then he was gone. The skyline was empty, and our hearts came back slowly to normal beating.
(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)