I awoke to colorless light poking through the venetian blinds. Sigh. Cloudy again. The sun (if it had been shining) wouldn’t dare let me sleep in this late. It’s been over a month since I’ve seen blue sky in the morning. (And yes, I still live in Southern California.)

Known for its ever-present sunshine, SoCal has trouble living up to its own reputation. This past month of gray that we’ve experienced isn’t a fluke, it’s caused by a seasonal weather pattern referred to as “May Gray” and “June Gloom.” Catchy, no? Off the coast of California (and many other west coasts around the world including those of Peru and Australia), a marine layer hangs out year-round. For whatever atmospheric and other scientific reasons I don’t understand, in late spring and early summer┬áthis marine layer cosies itself right up to the coastline, robbing the beach-goers of their unadulterated┬ásun-up to sun-down rays. (And me of my sunny disposition.)

(photo credit: Kevincollins123, Wikipedia Commons)

From above, it looks like a beautiful day, doesn’t it? Imagine yourself on the beach trying to get a tan underneath that thick cloud. “June Gloom” can even overflow into the month of July. When this happens, it’s officially a “Summer Bummer.”

Fortunately, this climate phenomenon has a circadian rhythm. The clouds greet us at dawn and hang around until 1 or 2 p.m. Teasingly, they dissipate for a few hours, but then regroup in the late afternoon. They keep us company throughout the night and into the next morning. Then the dance in the upper atmosphere starts over again.

One (unsurprisingly) gray day, we decided to take meteorological matters into our own hands.

Kirk and I have many talents, but purging the sky of clouds (cough, China) isn’t exactly part of our skill set. Since the clouds weren’t going to move, we would. We loaded up the car with sleeping bags and ClLIF bars (and a few other camping necessities) and headed east towards the blue sky – and into the desert.

From our coastal town of Carlsbad, the two-hour drive took us from sea level up to 5000 feet in elevation over the mountains, and back down nearly to sea level once again. The climate change was just as drastic. We began with a damp 60&#176, the climb up brought the temp down to a chilly 40&#176, and once on the desert floor the mercury shot back up over 80&#176.

Before I moved here, it didn’t occur to me that California had deserts. Towering redwood forests, miles of beautiful coastline, and excessive urban sprawl, no doubt. But desert? That was Arizona and New Mexico’s bag.

I was mistaken. Less than 70 miles inland of San Diego lies the real deal. Hot and dry, blazing with sunshine. Sand, cactuses and rattlesnakes. The Anza-Borrego Desert.

After a fear-alleviating stop at the visitor’s center (“No need to worry about the snakes. You don’t harass them, they don’t bite you.”) we decided to start with a 6-mile hike into Hellhole Canyon. The trail took us along a gently ambling path across the desert floor.

We walked for an hour. The dust and sand snuck its way into our shoes.

From far away, cactuses look so fuzzy and soft. You think, “I could give that cactus a hug!” Fortunately, I restrained myself.

The barrel cactus was my favorite. If a plant with thorns can be called cute, I declare this pink one adorable.

Less cute, but just as marvelous were the tall, branchy octillo plants.

The trail’s elevation rose as we hiked into the mountains, climbing up rocks and scrambling over boulders. And then, we saw it: the oasis.

Seeing clusters of lush greenery in the desert was strange. I almost pinched myself, maybe it was a mirage.

Our eyes did not deceive us. Those were palm trees.

Picking our way through the foliage, the ground became damp. All of a sudden:

“KIRK! I found WATER!”

Following the twisting stream up higher led us into denser vegetation. The air grew cool and the heat of the desert vanished.

We sat down to eat a CLIF Bar at the base of a tiny waterfall.

Finding the waterfall was the signal to turn around. At this point we had hiked three miles. Hiking back would bring the round-trip total to six. Assuming that we youngsters were fit and agile, the guide at the visitor’s center told us that once we had found the waterfall, we should keep on going for another 100 feet to be rewarded with a view. That is, one hundred feet straight up a pile of boulders.

Heavy wind blew me around at the top. (Bracing for a celebratory photo:)

Yep, that view was awesome. Stark contrast from the view out my bedroom window that morning.

With only a couple hours of daylight left, we booked it back down the valley. We had to find a place to camp, set up the tent, and cook some dinner (hot dogs & Blue Moon).

We couldn’t leave though before taking a lovebird shot. ☼

Next Up: Into the Desert: Anza-Borrego, Day Two