Sister Park Rangers: Welcome to Anza-Borrego!

By ABF Volunteers and Ikh Nart visitors Phil Roullard and Callie Mack

Our adventure began the morning of May 17, when we drove a 7-passenger van from San Diego to LAX. We were picking up four rangers from Ikh Nart Nature Reserve in Mongolia, here to attend the World Ranger Congress in Denver, Colorado. But first, they’d be spending a few days in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Once at the airport, we joined Park Manager Amgaa, already in Los Angeles visiting his daughter.

Like all good airport chauffeurs, we held up large signs - ours read "Welcome Ikh Nart Mongolian Rangers" in both Cyrillic and English.

The three Mongolian rangers (Chief Ranger Dandar, Cultural Resources Ranger Choi and State Inspector Anand), finally emerged from Customs and spotted us. We whisked them off to ABDSP and the guest quarters at UCI’s Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center. Three of the four rangers had never before traveled out of Mongolia or traveled by air, so this was all a new and exciting experience for them.

After a brief orientation with Jim Dice and some lunch (courtesy of ABF) at the Research Center, we left Amgaa, Anand, Choi and Dandar to relax and catch up on sleep. Wednesday started bright and early with breakfast at Kendall's Café with Mark Jorgensen, Steve Bier and Lynn Rhodes as well as other Parks and ABF employees, followed by a short drive to the Palm Canyon trailhead.

Guided by the one and only Ranger Steve Bier, our group hiked to the first grove, stopping at several points of interest. Although we didn't see any sheep during the hike, the rangers were fascinated by everything they saw along the way: Native American grinding rocks, a large giant water bug (“toe-biter”) captured by the fearless Ranger Bier, lizards, birds and many species of cactus (which don’t exist in Mongolia). 

In late afternoon, the Mongolians hit the pool at Hacienda del Sol, thanks to the hospitality of managers Mike and Kathy Gaffney. For three of the rangers, this was their first pool experience ever and proved to be a big hit – Phil showed them how to perform a loud, splashy “cannonball”, and Amgaa, who’s a good swimmer himself, gave the first-timers some lessons. The day ended with an excellent “Welcome Dinner” at the Arches at Borrego Springs Resort, with the Mongolians dressed in their beautiful traditional tsamsts (shirts). 

The next day started out with breakfast with Mark, Steve, Lynn, Susan Gilliland, Joan Schneider and Robin Connors. Our first stop was Tamarisk Grove campground, where we inspected the new cabins, looked at the “iron rangers” used for fee collection (which could be adapted for Ikh Nart, where staff are few), and viewed some impressive bighorn skulls (the Mongolian argali sheep is the ancestor of our continent’s bighorn species).

The group then joined Sam Webb from the Colorado Desert Archaeological Society on a hike to view several archaeological sites in Little Blair Valley Cultural Preserve. The rangers were especially interested in self-guiding trails like this one; this may be a concept that could work well at Ikh Nart.

On our return trip to Borrego Springs, we stopped at the Stagecoach Trail store for ice cream and root beer floats. The afternoon was very warm, so what better way to relax than with another pool session at Hacienda del Sol? After our refreshing swim, we joined everyone else and finished the day at the lovely home of Jimmy Smith, former President and current board member of ABF. Ranger Bier brought two very calm and affable California king snakes to show and handle, to the delight of the Mongolian rangers – and to ours as well! Dinner was a mouth-watering Mexican meal of DIY pollo asada burritos with all the toppings, rice and refried beans, chips and salsa, prepared by Kelley Jorgensen.

Friday began with a tour of the Begole Archaeological Research Center (BARC) with Mark, Steve, Lynn, Robin, Joan, Susan, Chuck Bennett, and obviously us and our Mongolian ranger friends! The BARC is a treasure trove of archived artifacts housed in a climate-controlled storage area, encased in a wonderful straw-bale construction facility. We also looked at examples of computer-generated mapping of archaeological sites in Mongolia and met Acting Superintendent of the Colorado Desert District, Norbert Ruhmke.

Just a short trip next door brought us to the Stout Paleontology Lab, where we had a very informative talk from Dr. Lyn Murray and enjoyed looking at fossils of mammoths and saber-toothed cats, and hoof prints of ancient llamas.

Before leaving Borrego Springs on Friday, our Mongolian counterparts and Ikh Nart supporters sat down together to exchange views on what the Mongolian rangers had learned from their visit - and what we had all learned from meeting with them. We also asked how we could benefit the rangers most during the upcoming visit by several ABF members and rangers from ABDSP.

Then it was off to our house for pizza and a few hours’ rest before driving back to LAX, arriving at 2 AM in plenty of time for their check-in. Emails the next day let us know they’d arrived in Denver safely and are enjoying the conference.

Phil and I had a blast with our Mongolian friends, learned a few more Mongolian words – and learned a lot more about ABDSP as well.

All photos by Phil Roullard and Callie Mack