On that trip to Anza-Borrego with “Cholla” Dale, I stayed in Room 162 in the Wisteria wing of La Casa del Zorro. I know because I still have the hand-written letter from the general manager welcoming me and inviting me to join him for a cocktail at the Fox Den lounge “at your convenience.”
That night I slept without the air-conditioning. Instead, I threw open the French doors of my bedroom but at daybreak the light and heat streamed in through my open doors even though it was not yet seven in the morning. So I got up and put on my bathing suit and quietly slipped into the pool in the courtyard, floating in the shadows cast by a honey mesquite tree.
There are few things more pleasant than swimming alone in a pool shortly after daybreak.
An hour or so later, “Cholla” Dale emerged from his casita, squinting at the bright desert morning. He came over and sat next to the edge of the pool in his bathrobe.
“How long have you been up?” he asked.
I told him. He nodded without saying anything. After awhile he went back to his casitas and came out in his swimsuit. He paddled around at one end of the pool while I made little ripples in the water at the other.
“Very civilized,” said “Cholla” Dale. “Very, very civilized.”
Around nine we ordered a pot of coffee and breakfast from room service. We ate next to the pool, not talking but just looking around at the papery bougainvillea and the spiky succulents and cacti in the garden as if we’d never seen plants like this in our lives.
“What’s the game plan?” “Cholla” Dale said when he’d finished his second cup of coffee.
“I think ‘Borrego’ Paul is picking us up around ten and we’re going to go explore an old calcite mine.”
“Cholla” Dale nodded his head. “An old calcite mine,” he repeated.
“What, exactly, is calcite?” he asked.
I told him I had no idea.
“Just going for a Jeep ride is good.”
“A Jeep ride in the desert.” He was quiet for a moment and then, looking around at our surroundings, said, ” I love the desert.”
“I thought you told me you weren’t really a desert person.”
“That was before,” said “Cholla” Dale. “This is now.”