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Help Us Produce The Next Color & Learn Book

The next book in the Color & Learn series, Coloring Southern California Butterflies and Caterpillars, is currently in production. During this pandemic, we need your help producing this book that will support the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM). Your donations would help assure that this book will be published this year.  Donations of $50 or more will be rewarded with a signed copy of the book.

Educator Bill Howell, author of this new book, has trained hundreds of SDNHM Canyoneers and Mission Trails Regional Park Trail Guides so that they can better interpret the natural world to the general public. His fondness for butterflies and their kin is apparent in this new book. Bill is donating all of his author royalties to the SDNHM. We need your help to produce this book. Donations may be mailed directly to Sunbelt Publications, indicating that the funds are to be used to publish the latest in the Color & Learn series. Our address is 1250 Fayette Street, El Cajon, CA 92020.

Cover for Coloring Southern California Butterflies and Caterpillars

To show our gratitude to our fans, please enjoy a free coloring page from this upcoming title and the interpretive text that accompanies the image. This page features the Anise Swallowtail, a commonly seen resident of southern California backyards. Have you seen them visiting your neighborhood?

Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)

The Anise Swallowtail butterfly may be the most extensively seen swallowtail in southern California. It extends into southern Canada and is common in the western United States, except in desert areas. Like most (but, not all) swallowtail butterflies it has a swallow-like tail on each hindwing. The naked caterpillar has no hairs or filaments and has bands of green and black stripes with pale yellow spots. All swallowtail caterpillars, if disturbed, extend a stinky, orange bifurcated protrusion from the back of their head to allegedly deter predators. The forked projection is called an osmeterium. The food plant for the caterpillar includes members of the carrot family with fennel being a favorite. The chrysalis is held upright with a necklace of silk and ranges in color from bark-brown to leaf-green and suggests a camouflage strategy.

“Kumeyaay Ethnobotany” Q&A with Michael Wilken-Robertson

To celebrate the release of the Spanish edition of award-winning Kumeyaay Ethnobotany, enjoy the following question and answer with author Michael Wilken-Robertson.

Q: I thought the Kumeyaay Indians lived in San Diego County area. Are there also Kumeyaay in Mexico?

A: Yes, long before the US and Mexico existed, the Kumeyaay territory extended throughout the areas known today as San Diego County and northern Baja California, Mexico. Only recently in their history, a border has divided their territory into two different countries.

Q: What kind of language do the Kumeyaay speak?

A: The Kumeyaay language belongs to a larger family of languages that is found in southern California, Arizona, and northern Baja California. These are ancient Native American languages that have ancient roots in this land, going back thousands of years. Today there are only around 70 fluent speakers of the Kumeyaay language in Baja California. And of course, the Kumeyaay living in Mexico also speak Spanish while those in the US speak English.

Q: Many of the Kumeyaay consultants that you worked with live in remote ranches in the hills of Baja California, Mexico. How can their knowledge be relevant to people living in California?

A: Although the Baja Kumeyaay might seem to live far from California, many of the native plants they use will be familiar to people of southern California because they are part of the same bioregion. Anyone who is an outdoor enthusiast or fan of native plants will recognize most of the same plants used by the Kumeyaay. Also, many of the ways that native people have used the plants are very similar from Santa Barbara to northern Baja California, making them into foods, medicines, tools, construction materials, and ceremonial items.

Norma Meza Calles of Nejí sifts acorn meal. Photo by Deborah Small

Q: Many of the elders that you have worked with over the years have passed away. What is happening with the transmission of this knowledge?

A: Some of the younger people continue to learn and use this knowledge. But many leave their communities to seek work in the cities. It is my hope that this book will inspire current generations to feel pride in their culture and help to preserve some small part of the vast indigenous plant knowledge for future generations.

Q: In the past, Kumeyaay people were hunters, gatherers, and fishers. How do they make a living today?

A: The Kumeyaay have adapted to the many changes in their lives since the arrival of non-Indians to these shores. Today the Kumeyaay villages have diverse economies where people might make a living as cowboys, maintaining rural roads or other governmental programs, through agriculture, or working in nearby cities. Some very talented artists also have found that using the skills passed on from their ancestors, such as basketry and pottery, can be useful ways of making a living. Many Kumeyaay supplement their income by gathering acorns and other plants for food and using plant medicines, which helps keep ethnobotanical knowledge alive.

Q: How do the Kumeyaay from different sides of the border interact?

A: It has been increasingly difficult for them to do so since the border was created. In the past they would often travel north or south to attend tribal gatherings, funerals, and traditional games and other cultural events. Today the traditional artisans and cultural specialists are often invited to teach their skills at US reservations, at museums, universities, and special events, but they require special border crossing permits.

Q: You describe the uses of 47 different native plants in the book. What were some of the most surprising things you learned about the ways they have been used by the Kumeyaay?

A: The most surprising thing to learn was just how vibrant the knowledge was among some of the Kumeyaay I worked with and how profound their knowledge of their environment continues to be. Some specific things I learned were how to make drops to remove a tick from your ear, how to gather and cook caterpillars for eating, how to make an effective stomach medicine from what many might consider a common weed (California Buckwheat), and how plants can be gathered in ways that actually help the plants flourish.

Author Michael Wilken-Robertson with IBPA Award. Photo by Sunbelt Publications

Q: How did you end up spending so many years of your life working with the Kumeyaay and other tribes of Baja California?

A: As a boy growing up in southern California, I always wanted to know more about the native people who had lived for thousands of years in this land. I was very lucky that my grandfather was from Mexico and was good friends with many native Baja Californians; he introduced me to them from the time I was a kid. I eventually developed my own relationships with them over the years, based on activism and advocacy that I was able to do along with my research. This helped build trust, and I have been honored to have many friendships and adventures over the years. As a person of Mexican heritage myself, I hope that I have been able to make some kind of contribution to the history, culture, and people of our beautiful land.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to publish a Spanish edition of your book Kumeyaay Ethnobotany?

A: Most of my fieldwork was done in Baja California, Mexico, where many Kumeyaay people still use the plants described in the book in their daily lives. The consultants who generously shared their knowledge with me asked me to help preserve it for their descendants and future generations to learn from. Although many of them are now gone, I hope that with this book I can fulfill that request. I also believe that the more people of Baja California learn about their original native peoples, the more they will recognize the importance of their ongoing place in the history, culture, and present life of the region. The more they learn about our native plants and the ways that humans have interacted with them for thousands of years, the more they will be committed to conserve them, as well as the incredible habitats in which they grow. I am hoping the book will be used to educate Baja Californians in schools, libraries, and of course in the indigenous communities themselves.

Ko’alh speaker Teresa Castro Albañez makes fiber skirts from Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera). Photo by Deborah Small

Q: How does this book benefit the Kumeyaay?

A: In many ways. It can serve as a manual that links younger Kumeyaay with the knowledge of their relatives and ancestors, some of whom have now passed on, but many of them still very much alive. It helps to reinforce the recognition of the amazing indigenous cultures that have been developed and passed on for thousands of years in the region. Hopefully, this will help reduce discrimination based on ignorance, which unfortunately continue to affect indigenous peoples of the region. I also hope it will inspire younger generations of Kumeyaay to continue the work of cultural documentation in their own ways, in their own communities. Finally, we will be donating copies of the book to members of the native communities who participated in the study, as well as to local libraries, schools, and museums.

Kumeyaay Ethnobotany explores the remarkable interdependence between native peoples and native plants of the Californias through in-depth descriptions of 47 native plants and their uses, lively narratives, and hundreds of vivid photographs. It connects the archaeological and historical record with living cultures and native plant specialists who share their ever-relevant wisdom for future generations. Winner of the 2019 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Gold Medal in the Regional category and Silver Medal in the Multicultural category.

Free Recipe! Batter Fried Shrimp Mazatlán Style

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Celebrate with this fried shrimp recipe from Cooking with Baja Magic Dos, part of our current cookbook sale.

Batter Fried Shrimp Mazatlán Style

Mazatlán is a busy seaport and industrial city on the west coast of mainland Mexico just south of the tip of Baja. It was one of Mexico’s first beach resorts back in the early ‘60s and is still a major stop on all Mexican Riviera cruises. We spent a few Easter vacations in Mazatlán when I was a kid, enjoying the sunny weather, warm water, and friendly ambiance.

The last time I was there, every night the tourists converged en masse on one of the town’s premier eateries, the Shrimp Bucket. My father swears it has the best fried shrimp served anywhere. They sell it everywhere in Baja now. This is Nina’s version of the dish, which she and my Mom and Dad made up together. Don’t forget the cerveza! Serves six.

2 eggs, beaten

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp chopped cilantro

2 pounds jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 1/2 cups Italian breadcrumbs

1 1/2 cups corn or canola oil

1-2 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp seasoned salt

In a small bowl, mix eggs, lemon juice, and cilantro. Dip each shrimp into the egg mixture and dredge in breadcrumbs combined with garlic powder and seasoned salt. Heat oil in skillet over medium high heat. Fry each shrimp about two to three minutes, or until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and place on platter in oven on warm until ready to serve.

Covid-19 Update from Sunbelt and Cookbook Sale

We are hoping everyone is staying healthy and safe. Sunbelt is still filling orders on our website during this difficult time. We can also take orders via email at or by phone at (619) 258-4911. Orders can be shipped or prepared for curbside pickup. The Sunbelt warehouse is open for scheduled visits only during the COVID-19 stay at home order to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. Please call or email for appointments. We appreciate your support of our publishing business during this pandemic.

While you are safe at home, you might be interested in trying out new interesting recipes. A selection of our cookbooks are available for 30% off for some indoor fun. Please enjoy the following recipe from Cooking with Baja Magic Dos by Ann Hazard. The book leads you through four generations of historic Baja adventures and features 250 recipes representative of Baja’s unique and continuously evolving cuisine.

This recipe for Zesty Relleno Bites is an employee favorite for group gatherings.

Zesty Relleno Bites from Cooking with Baja Magic Dos

Serves four to eight

  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (set aside ½ cup for topping)
  • 4 cups shredded Chihuahua or Jack cheese (set aside ½ cup for topping)
  • 2 lb fresh pasilla or ancho chiles (spicy) or 2 lb fresh Anaheim chiles (milder), blistered
  • or 6 – 7 oz cans diced green chiles (mild)
  • 6 eggs, well beaten
  • 6 tbsp flour
  • 1 eight ounce can evaporated milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 cups (or 2 – 7.5 oz cans) salsa verde
  • queso fresca or feta cheese as garnish

To blister chiles, wash, pat dry and cook over a gas burner, turning constantly until they’re evenly charred and stop making popping sounds. Wrap each chile in a moist paper towel to steam. After a few minutes peel skin off each chile. Remove seeds and dice. If using canned chiles, simply spread on a paper towel and pat dry.

Grease a 9 x 14 inch pan. Layer 1/3 of the chiles and 1/3 of cheese, repeat twice, for a total of three layers. Add flour and milk to eggs, blend well, pour over chiles and cheese. At this point, the dish can be refrigerated up to 24 hours. Bake at 350˚ for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, top with salsa verde and remaining cheeses and bake an additional 15 min. Cool until warm, cut into one inch squares, serve and watch them disappear!

New Book Describes the Evolution of the Anza-Borrego Desert Region

San Diego, CA— The Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF) in Borrego Springs is sponsoring a free public book launch for A Natural History of the Anza-Borrego Region: Then and Now, just in time for holiday gift-giving on Saturday, December 14 at the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center at 401 Tilting T Drive in Borrego Springs, starting at 4:00 p.m. Authors Mike Wells and Marie Simovich will  present the story of how the desert landscape and organisms that inhabit this desert area evolved to their present state and what the future may hold for these desert lands. Books will be available for purchase and refreshments will be served. All author royalties are assigned to ABF to help support Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The book was published by Sunbelt Publications of San Diego in cooperation with California State Parks and ABF.

For those who might not be able to make the December 14 book launch, a second public lecture and book signing will be held at the Anza-Borrego State Park Visitor Center on December 20th at 3:00 pm. Call ABF at 760-767-0446 for more information about these two scheduled free public events in Borrego Springs. A third public event will be held in the San Diego area on Tuesday, December 17, at Burning Beard Brewing Company in El Cajon. Call Sunbelt Publications for more information about this San Diego event.

This comprehensive volume evolved from a course on the natural history of the Anza-Borrego region that was developed by the authors over a 16-year period and taught at the University of San Diego.  “Early in the life of that class we discovered that there wasn’t a single book that focused on the natural history of the western Colorado Desert and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in particular,” note Wells and Simovich. The pair took the situation into their own hands, filling the gap with the new “go-to” guide for scientists and park visitors alike. Lavish illustrations work together with the text to strengthen the reader’s understanding of this major desert area that delights visitors with an incredible array of wildlife, wildflowers, and rugged landscapes. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park at 1,000 square miles—almost the size of the state of Rhode Island.

“This is the most comprehensive natural history book I have seen,” praises Cameron Barrows. “Reading this book cover to cover provides the reader with the what, where and how for understanding not only the Anza Borrego Desert region, but also the deserts of the world.” Barrows is an Associate Research Ecologist at the Center for Conservation Biology, University of California Riverside.

Future lectures and signings will be announced. Check with the publisher – Sunbelt Publications ( — for locations, dates, and times.

Meet Kid Fraser–An Outlaw Turned Musician–in New Book by Nicholas Clapp

San Diego, CA—Documentary filmmaker and award-winning author Nicholas Clapp has once more returned to the West in his new book, The Outlaw’s Violin: Or Farewell, Old West. The book follows the real-life story of Billy “Kid” Fraser – the Montana Outlaw – who over a century ago traveled the West from Nevada’s Virginia City to Montana’s Bannack, and then on to Arizona’s Oatman and California’s Death Valley – to finally settle in Eureka, Nevada, where he was to bring grand opera to a desert town.

A battered and broken homemade violin, discovered at a Mojave Desert swap meet, was to provide an insight into the life of Kid Fraser. Born on the planks of San Francisco wharf, he was to grow up in a hard luck family ever in pursuit of “the next big thing.” They were “tramp miners” in search of a golden dream, but more often than not coming up empty handed. Yet they carried on, eventually settling in Eureka, Nevada, a town that surprisingly had an Opera House, which still stands today. Kid fancied himself a desperado, yet was drawn to life as a musician. Ultimately, music saved the day as Kid recruited international opera star Mignon Nevada to grace his town’s Opera House with what may have been one of the best performances of her career.

Nicholas Clapp’s previous books have chronicled the desert west from the time of Indian shamans through the excitement of gold and silver rushes, cause for Death Valley historian Richard Lingenfelter to praise his “delightfully and visually captivating journey through the lively boom camps of the past.” He and his wife Bonnie have roamed Western America’s badlands and derelict mining camps – and found them enchanting, if on occasion scary. Their historical, real-life characters and intriguing stories have an inescapable wild and wooly appeal.

Book Details

The Outlaw’s Violin: Or Farewell, Old West

Author: Nicholas Clapp
ISBN: 978-1-941384-49-7
Retail: $16.95
Year Published: 2019
Softcover | 7 x 9 | 152 pp.

Ancient Geoglyphs of the Desert Southwest on Full Display through Aerial Photography

One man’s thirty-five year quest to document the little-known earthen art sites in California and Arizona and preserve fading geoglyphs is recorded in the pages of a new book, Geoglyphs of the Desert Southwest: Earthen Art as Viewed from Above.

9781941384503 | $19.95

San Diego, CA—The deserts of the American southwest contain one of the largest concentrations of geoglyphs outside of Peru’s Nazca Lines. These ancient Native American works of earthen art can be up to hundreds of feet long, and yet are often invisible until viewed from above. Before drones, GPS, or GoogleMaps, photographer Harry Casey began a unique archaeology project. Armed with nothing more than topographic maps, 35mm film cameras, and his beloved Piper J3 Cub aircraft, Casey spent thirty-five years documenting the region’s geoglyphs before natural erosion and human intervention could destroy these fragile sites. A newly published book, Geoglyphs of the Desert Southwest: Earthen Art as Viewed from Above, authored by Harry Casey and Anne Morgan, collects Casey’s photographs into the first visual record of these beautiful and mysterious features.

Geoglyphs of the Desert Southwest, published by Sunbelt Publications, is the first book dedicated to the earthen art of the southwest deserts of the United States. Steven M. Freers, rock art researcher and co-author of Rock Art of the Grand Canyon Region praises the book, “This definitive book is an elegant historical account of the relentless pursuit to document and comprehend one of humankind’s great enigmas as expressed on desert surfaces. It is a gem, an essential addition to anyone’s library where the mysteries of rock art holds special status.”

The eldest of three sons born into a farming family east of Brawley, California, Harry Casey had always been interested in flying, photography, and desert archaeology.  These interests led him to take classes from noted archaeologist and historian Jay von Werlhof at the Imperial Valley College in El Centro, California. After many years of flying and photographing, Casey donated his extensive collection of photographs and research to the Imperial Valley Desert Museum, where Anne Morgan was the Head Archivist/Curator. Anne met Harry and his wife, Meg Casey, and what began as an archival project on nearly 10,000 aerial images became a friendship and partnership as she helped edit Harry’s original manuscript into a published book.

A launch party is scheduled for April 13th, 2019 at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum where the project began. Authors Harry Casey and Anne Morgan will be in attendance. The launch party kicks off a week of events in San Diego and Imperial Counties:

  • San Diego Natural History Museum on April 14th
  • San Diego Rock Art Association on April 14th
  • Colorado Desert Archaeology Society on April 19th

Two Reviews Praise “Chasing Centuries”

Two reviews for Sunbelt’s new title, Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest, are available to read.

One review can be found at Succulents and More, a blog dedicated to the eponymous group of plants: Chasing Centuries: top agave book of 2018

The second review was written by Maureen Gilmer, a fellow Sunbelt author, for The Desert SunThe search for ancient agave

New Book Explores Ancient Agaves of the Southwest Desert

How they evolved as cultivars for Native Americans over thousands of years

Book Cover: Chasing Centuries

San Diego, CAChasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest (Sunbelt Publications, Inc., 2019) takes readers on a journey through the deserts of Arizona in search of ancient agaves unique to pre-Columbian archaeological sites. Author Ron Parker, a xeric plant enthusiast and amateur botanist, spent years in the field observing and researching these living relics of the past. Lavishly illustrated with photos from the author’s own field trips, this book is sure to become a go-to guide for agave aficionados ready to set out on their own adventures.

Anthropologist and author of Kumeyaay Ethnobotany Michael Wilken-Robertson praises the book. “This lavishly illustrated and meticulously researched work takes the reader on a fascinating adventure through thousands of years of history of human-agave coevolution in the rugged landscapes of Arizona. Chasing Centuries is a book to be savored, carried into the field, kept as a reference and gifted to anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of how Arizona’s ancient peoples played an enduring role in shaping the natural habitats of the region.”

Author Ron Parker, a resident of Arizona, has been studying agave populations in the state for many years, and has been out in the field with renowned botanists and regional archaeologists. When not chasing agaves, he maintains the well-known xeric plant discussion forum,, an impressive online repository for information on agaves and other succulent plants. A lecture circuit and book tour across the Southwest is planned for 2019 and beyond.

Book Details

Chasing Centuries: The Search for Ancient Agave Cultivars Across the Desert Southwest

Author: Ron Parker
ISBN: 978-1-941384-48-0
Retail: $26.95
Year Published: 2019
Softcover | 7 x 9 | 176 pp.