Destinations Magazine

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

By Carolinearnoldtravel @CarolineSArnold

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

African Aloe plants decorate the path to the dining hall at Rancho La Puerta

My friend Dorothy Patent is a fellow nonfiction writer for kids who has more than 130 published books and who spends as much time out-of-doors enjoying nature as possible.  You can find out more about her and her books at her website, dorothyhinshawpatent.com, and blog, dorothypatent.blogspot.com.  I think you will enjoy reading about her visit to Baja California.
 When we think of Baja California, we imagine gorgeous beaches stretching to the horizon with quaint villages and waterside resorts.  But there’s more to this westernmost Mexican state, as my husband, Greg, and I discovered four years ago when he received an irresistible invitation—a free week for us both at RanchoLa Puerta, a world-class spa retreat in the Mexican mountains not far from San Diego, in trade for Greg offering three cooking classes.  He enthusiastically accepted the offer, beginning a new annual experience for us both.The deal was especially great for me, as Greg did all the work!  Rancho La Puerta just celebrated its 72th anniversary and has evolved from a health oriented tenting camp into a environmentally conscious destination spa offering just about any kind of healthful activity you might want, from weight training and aerobics to yoga and Feldenkreis.  For folks like me, who love being outdoors and enjoy learning about the environment, the hikes, bird walks, and garden tours are especially enticing.

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

A male California quail announces his presence atop an ancient grape vine


Our most recent visit to the Rancho came this April, a good time for flowers, and I especially enjoyed the garden tour.  I found out that many of the plants at the Rancho are native, but some are brought in from other parts of the world, such as South Africa, that have a similar dry, sunny climate.
 I learned some fascinating facts, such as the varying life history of the native Mexican century plant, which is a kind of agave.  Several of these giants were beginning to bloom during our visit.  Turns out these plants are more likely to flower after ten years of growth rather than a hundred!  After blooming, the plant dies.  Century plants are exquisitely adapted to their environment.  For example, the soaring flower stalk either releases the seeds into the wind or holds onto them, where they germinate and grow into baby plants that later go to ground, depending on the weather.Plants belonging to the aloe family, native to Africa, also tend to live in this type of landscape.  Some of them look a lot like agaves, but they belong to a different plant family.  People are familiar with the healing houseplant, Aloe vera, but there are about 400 other species as well.  One that thrives at the Rancho is the African Aloe, which creates waves of bright orange color under the April sun.

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

Cactus shares a niche with daffodils near one of the swimming pools


The mountain climate brings cool nights, so even more plants considered as more northerly can thrive here, right along with cactuses. Daffodils, roses, ice plant—all of these were blooming in April.As a zoologist, I’m especially drawn to animals.  The built environment at Rancho La Puerta integrates completely into the surrounding natural environment, so wild creatures share the land with the people.  Fence lizards sun themselves on rocks used for landscaping, and Mexican ground squirrels rest atop patio walls.

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

The Mexican ground squirrel has a nice long tail

 I could have spent my entire week just watching the many native and migratory birds that spend time here in the spring.  Songbirds and hummingbirds abound.  California quail scuttle quickly across the paths from one clump of shrubs to another, and vultures roost in tall eucalyptus trees at night, then spread out their wings in the morning sun to warm them before flying off for the day. During our Rancho visits, I’m most likely to be found roaming around with my camera and binoculars in the cool morning and trying out the various indoor classes during the heat of the day.  When he isn’t busy teaching, Greg joins me.  Wherever I am at the Rancho, I’m in a perfect environment--experiencing nature quite different from at my Montana home, or trying out new ways to nourish my body and spirit.

Tidbits on Nature at Rancho La Puerto by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent (Guest Post)

A fence lizard warms himself next to a crack he can zip into for safety



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