A Caterpillar Feast

In March, I journeyed back to the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California. The big draw was an annual migration of Swainson’s hawks and the emergence of big colorful caterpillars, but as it happened, a third phenomenon blossomed simultaneously.

Big colorful caterpillars emerge every spring in Anza-Borrego.

They are the larvae of the white-lined sphinx moth and appear in various color combinations, from yellow with black stripes, to black with yellow stripes, to green with black stripes.

The caterpillars, sometimes called hornworms, feed on many types of flowers and plants, while the moths seek nectar.

The striking moths, also known as hummingbird moths, can be quite beautiful.

What I witnessed was the part of the life cycle when the larvae hatch and proceed to munch out on the desert flowers and plants.

It just so happened that this year the little guys were even luckier to hatch during a “superbloom,” a time when bountiful winter rains have produced carpets of wildflowers across the desert.

After eating nonstop and growing to 3-4 inches in length, the time comes for the next phase of their lives. The caterpillars burrow into the sand and pupate into a form that remains underground for 8-15 days. Then, the big transformation occurs and the moths emerge!

The moths spend their nights feeding and pollinating wildflowers, and then lay eggs on the undersides of flowers. The entire life cycle begins anew when the eggs hatch into very small caterpillars that begin to eat 24 hours a day on the flowers.

At the same time, Swainson’s hawks are making their way north from South America. They spend time in the desert around Borrego and have been known to feast on the caterpillars. Birders gather daily for the hawk watch. It was a gamble where or when they might be spotted. During my visit, I was disappointed to see that the hawks were in kettles a great distance away. Meer specks. I had expected to see them near the ground picking off the fat worms.

Unfortunately, I could not stick around long enough for the emergence of the moths, but I bet that’s something to see!

The superbloom, however, was a great treat.

Two Gallery Shows

I’m honored that my photo, Mystical Light, has been accepted for the 1650 Gallery exhibition, Light and Shadow. The LA gallery show opens April 23. I made this image at the architecturally fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum.

Mystical Light_by_Joan_Miller

I’m also happy to share that my  photo Desert Sunrise has been accepted for the upcoming Black Box Gallery show, Taking Pictures: 2016.  This image, viewable in the online annex gallery, was made at the historic Twentynine Palms Inn, where I stayed near Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to the park, the inn grounds and buildings are picturesque.

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Playful Art that Beckons You into the Desert

raptorThey’re scattered in the desert sand, a ways back from the road. Mostly, you’d never even notice them as you drive by. Woolly mammoths, sabertooth tigers, a serpent, dinosaurs, and a grasshopper and scorpion so large they must have escaped from a 1950s horror film.

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In the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California, you will find some 140 wild and fascinating creatures. But fear not, they are cast in metal and welcome you to approach. These fantastic larger-than-life sculptures are the creation of Ricardo Breceda. The story goes that he first made a dinosaur for his daughter. Afterward, he met up with the owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs, Dennis Avery. Avery had had the idea of using hsignis land as an art gallery, so the two seemed destined to meet.

Visitors are welcomed to tour the Galleta Meadows Sky Art project and see the sculptures up close. Sculptures may not be the best way to describe them; statues or installations is probably more accurate.

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There are no fences around the artworks. You can touch them and walk all around. They are impressive. Each has unique textures and designs to the metal covering.

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claw feetInstallations include real and imaginary creatures, in addition to a few human figures, a cactus and a Jeep that’s attempting to scale some rocks.

It boggles the mind to think of the inspiration and labor that went into each.

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The road bisects a mythical serpent

Each stands silent and frozen in time. Though some seem to be crying out, perhaps their last gasp as their species died out. Others stare you down with cold, dark eyes that say, “You walk the earth now, but we too once roamed it, and now we are gone.”

dino crymammoth1Wild horses, camels and tortoises remind us that they are imperiled; their homes under constant threat of development.

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So, what is the point of the Sky Art project?

I think it goes beyond simple public art. Visitors can experience a variety of emotions.

For me, there were connections to the ancient earth and extinct creatures. The stark desert landscape seems a fitting site for them, silent and seemingly otherwise endlessly empty.

tortoises

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