I've been curious about the Mud Caves of the Anza-Borrego Desert for years, but never been there. I started to get really excited the closer we got; I love the high plains and the desert--they have this wild, subtle beauty that takes practice to see.
We got there late, after dark, but the moonlight was so bright we could walk around without difficulty. In fact, I'm glad I saw the hills by moonlight first: it looked like the surface of a distant planet, with ragged hills and stardust spilling down the little valleys. (it was used as the setting for part of the planet Mars in the Starman series; one of the authors was our guide on the trip)
We set up camp and decided to visit one cave before it got too late. We walked a few yards down the road to Plunge Pool, and entered the cave. There weren't enough flashlights to go around, so I got to use a candle instead. Which is great, because I like candles better; I love the dancing flames and the warm light. The cave winds for a few narrow yards before widening out into a cavern, with a skylight 30 feet up. At night, it was completely dark; we put out all our lights, and talked in the dark for a long time. Then we lit our lights, and went back to camp.
We cooked dinner (hot dogs!!) and I discovered that you can, in fact, roast a strawberry over a campfire: it's very good, though you have to be careful, since the fruit gets VERY hot. Fr. David had brought some square handmade peppermint marshmallows, and we toasted a few of those, too. Brian entertained us all by telling a story, enjoying our laughter before realizing that we were laughing more at the charcoal he'd inadvertently rubbed all over his face than at the story. Fr. David brought out The Mad Scientists' Club ---a book that has long been a favorite of mine--and read "The Voice in the Chimney". By the time the story was over, we were all stamping our feet trying to warm up, and shivering.
Everyone froze during the night, except maybe Ashley, who said she was warm. That day was spent clambering around the caves, getting covered in dust, sand, and various scrapes. More on this part in the meditations post. I had enormous amounts of fun finding bits of mica in the rocks and dust on top of the caves, and exploring the great textures left in the mud.
We went back to camp and ate lunch (hot dog sandwiches! A coyote or something had made off with our hot dog buns in the night) then headed out to a few more caves. Brian scared us all by attempting to climb down a cliff wall to another cave opening, but gave up when he saw that it was just too dangerous.
In another cave, we came up into the light in a small hollow. We all sat down to rest, and Ashley and I lay down on a rock, propped our feet up on the far wall, and looked up at the darkening sky. The moon was up, and a jet soared by overhead, leaving a pink trail behind it. We headed back down, and walked back to camp; dinner was chili, with onions and sourdough bread. Fr. David read us "The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake," my favorite of the m ad Scientists Club stories.
The moon was bright and clear again, and we did some climbing that night by its light on the nearby hills. Ashley and I sat ourselves on top of the hill that overlooked the campsite, and lay on our backs to look at the moon; we even saw a shooting star! I think two bats flew overhead, too.
We all slept warmer that night, and slept well. I woke up briefly in the middle of the night, after the moon had set; the starlight was bright enough to see by! Not as well as the moonlight, but enough.
We got up that morning; I did some drawing and writing, several of the others went for walks. Brian finished up the last chapter of the first Starman book. We packed up camp and headed up to Ghost Mountain, home to writer Marshall South in the 1930's. It's a mile-long trek uphill to get to the ruins of the adobe house, but well worth it. We had Mass in the middle of the ruins, and then headed back down the hill, and headed back towards home. I, unfortunately, got rather carsick, and didn't fell at all well. When we stopped for lunch (my first meal of the day, at 3 pm!) at the Wynola Pizza Express, I could hardly choke down three pieces of my mushroom pizza (which was sad, because it was excellent pizza; I highly recommend the restaurant!) When we got back in the car, Ashley suggested that we read the Gospel of John on the way home: Erin and I took turns reading, while Ashley drove. Due to a bit of a jam on the 91, we actually got to finish the whole book! We dropped Erin off, and drove back to the church, loaded my stuff into my car, and the trip was over!